Until the late 1950s, Ukraine used three navigable waterways in the Danube delta: the branches of the Bystre, Ochakiv and Prorva estuaries. The available archive data, in particular, confirms the commercial use of the Kiliya waterway since 1830. In 1959, the exploitation of the Bystre waterway ceased due to the natural processes of waterway silting. In 1994, the same situation took place at the Prorva waterway. As a result, the Ukrainian part of the VII pan-European transportation corridor became non-operational. Until now, traditional transportation flows have been diverted to neighbouring Romanian waterways.
This situation resulted in significant deterioration of the competitive position of the Ukrainian inland transport companies operating there. The operations of the port infrastructure were brought to a standstill, putting enormous pressure on the local economy and society. The Ukrainian Project on the Renovation of the Deep-Water Navigation Route in the Danube Delta was designed to overcome these problems, but it didn’t happen. Starting from its beginning in 2003, this project became subject to bilateral discussions with neighbouring Romania and turned out to be an instrument for blaming Ukraine in causing damage to environment of the Danube Delta.
Having applied to the Secretariat of Espoo Convention with a request to create the International Inquiry Commission (IIC), Romania initiated the first precedent by establishing such an institution and conclusions of the IIC issued on June 10, 2006 defined the likely-significant adverse environmental impact of a project, binding Ukraine to apply the provisions of Convention, which was ratified in 1999. Since that moment, Romania started opposing Ukraine proclaiming the nonfulfilment of obligations under the convention by Ukraine as regards informing neighbour countries on proposed activity in the light of likely-significant adverse trans-boundary impact of a project.
The discussion lasted for more than four years and this issue is always on the agenda of any bilateral and multilateral meetings of Ukraine with its neighbours, as well as the one of the points of EU-Ukraine relations. Only 3.4-kilometres of dredging works in the Delta became the crucial point of Ukraine’s relations with Danube upstream countries in frame of environmental multilateral agreements. Ukraine, being the most downstream Danube territory, has often stated that it is considerably suffering from the activity of upstream countries and especially projects implemented by Romania.
Nevertheless, this endless process of negotiations and attempts to comply with relevant environmental conventions was a useful lesson for Ukraine. After the Fourth Meeting of the Parties to Espoo Convention on May 19-21 in Bucharest this year, where Ukraine was given the declaration of non-compliance and the conditional caution to the government, it took strong commitments and made attempts to overcome this situation. Since the beginning of the year, Ukraine has created the body – Intergovernmental Coordination Council on the implementation of the Espoo Convention by Ukraine chaired by Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Hryhorii Nemyrya and appointed the Focal Point to the convention.
The work of this council became the effective instrument for the implementation of Convention’s provisions mostly as regards the commitments taken on the Bucharest meeting. At the demand of the Implementation Committee, Ukraine repealed the Final Decision on the Phase II of the Project, took commitments not to start the works under this Phase until it proceeds with steps to comply with the Espoo Convention procedure. In accordance with provisions of the Convention, Ukraine sent the notification on the proposed activity to Romania as a potentially-affected party, held consultations on an Action Plan with Secretariat of Espoo Convention, European Commission and Romania and is ready now to proceed with distribution of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) documentation and hold various Consultations with public and authorities of Romania.
Recently, Ukraine has achieved much in fulfilling its obligations after the May sitting of the Espoo Convention. In particular, the government established Coordinating Council on implementation of Espoo Convention chaired by Nemyria. It takes all necessary measures on realisation of the requirements of this Convention, coordinating them with the leading European institutions. Delegations from European Council and Romania were invited to observe if the works carried out under The Danube – Black Sea project meet ecological standards. Today, practically all the measures of the Ukrainian side are approved by the European Council and relevant European institutions. It would signal Romanian government that Ukraine is open for negotiations and ready for cooperation, especially on the issues of ecological safety, but only on the mutually beneficial basis for all the participants of this process.
Ukraine reported on the progress to the convention’s implementation committee in the beginning of this month and has received positive response from the participants of the 15th Meeting of the Implementation Committee on October 28, 2008. The Secretariat of the Espoo Convention and relevant directorates of European Commission are going to send the experts to assist Ukraine to fully comply with its commitments under the Project and prepare the proper legal base for the convention’s implementation in Ukraine to avoid conflicts as well as to direct the mutual efforts towards the preservation of the Danube Delta as a common European heritage.