Community Waste Management and COWAM 2 framed RWM governance at a European level, organizing a series of EU-wide seminars and conferences, each time involving about 200 delegates.
A broad diversity of stakeholders, of different profiles and representing a dozen countries, met on an equal footing to investigate key RWM governance issues: local democracy, the links between local communities and national policies, quality of decision-making processes, and long-term vigilance. Thus the first two COWAM projects benchmarked good practice and generated recommendations for the EU, building on concrete feedback from a wide range of countries and RWM processes. These good practices and recommendations were adopted in several countries to help improve the governance of RWM.
In countries that had recently become European Member States, participation in COWAM activities proved very useful to allow the main stakeholders to meet with their European counterparts, and just as importantly, to establish connections between national institutions and local communities. Local NGOs and Mayors, representatives of agencies and other specialists from a single country sometimes met for the first time at a COWAM meeting. As a neutral European stage COWAM made intra-national networking easier, for both new and traditional Member States. In COWAM 2, intra-national discussions were tested during annual conferences. Grouped by country, participants debated the lessons they found most pertinent for their own context. These country-based multi-stakeholder groups found an interest in elaborating the issues together. For a number of countries in particular, this discussion format appeared promising.
COWAM in Practice, the third programme to be organized, recognized that achieving good practice in a given country doesn’t derive merely from learning what was done well or badly elsewhere.
Once good practices are identified - supported by evidence from a broad variety of local and national experiences across Europe - improving actual governance requires experimentation in a dialogue between stakeholders in their own environment.
Stepping into experimentation seemed possible in several countries at the end of COWAM 2. What made it “the right time” in each of these places? The conditions were quite diverse. In some countries, like France or the UK, a new legal or policy framework had just been promulgated, and stakeholders were keen to discuss how the new regulations could be set into motion and what the practical implications could be for local communities. In Romania, the limited development of RWM legislation called for joint work between the variety of stakeholders to develop the basis for democratic local governance of nuclear and RWM issues. In Spain and Slovenia, despite well-established relations between national and local stakeholders there was a need to assess existing RWM governance arrangements and to consider how these could be improved.
In all these various contexts, the existence of a temporary European/national institution like COWAM in Practice was deemed useful to develop an insightful dialogue on RWM governance.