Twenty-five years. A quarter-century. It’s enough time to raise a young adult, age an excellent Scotch whiskey or turn a car into an antique.

In Central and Eastern Europe, the 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell have brought historic changes. One important player in this remarkable transition has been the Regional Environmental Center (REC) for Central and Eastern Europe.

The original REC building in 1990, which was housed in a renovated silk mill in downtown Budapest.

The original REC building in 1990, which was housed in a renovated silk mill in downtown Budapest.

The REC is one of EPA’s longest-lived international programs. Created by EPA in 1990 at the request of then-President George H.W. Bush, the REC will celebrate its 25th Anniversary at a ministerial conference on June 10-11th, 2015 with the participation and support of Hungarian President Janos Ader. Former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly, who represented EPA at the REC opening in 1990, will return to Budapest to personally affirm EPA’s proud place in its history.

I had the privilege of being part of the EPA team that helped create the REC in 1990. And because the REC opening was one of my first assignments, I will spend my 25th EPA anniversary in Hungary celebrating the major progress that the REC and this region have made.

The REC’s mandate is to foster transboundary cooperation, promote environmental improvements and share experiences. Its unique geographic scope fosters information-sharing and cooperation among countries at differing levels of environmental, economic and political development within and beyond the European Union. By combining diverse experiences, the REC strengthens environmental governance across Central and Eastern Europe and beyond.

Beginning in the 1990s, EPA partnered with the REC to develop Local Environmental Action Programs (LEAPs), empowering local communities to prioritize and address environmental concerns. With the support of European partners, the REC continues to replicate this successful model across the region. The U.S. State Department also has chosen to support LEAPs through the REC to empower local governments in Ukraine. In the early 2000s, the European Commission, another REC founder, selected the REC to help many of its member countries meet environmental requirements for EU membership. In 2012, Ukraine joined the REC, an affirmation of the continuing relevance and value of this regional collaboration. And the REC’s value is further illustrated by the fact that many of its current leaders were there at its birth in 1990.

The REC’s 25th Anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate strengthened democratic and environmental governance in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s also a unique chance for EPA to take pride in our contribution to the REC’s creation – and its ultimate success.

As EPA’s Program Manager for Europe, Anna Phillips coordinates cooperation with the European Commission, EU Member States, non-EU partners and international organizations. Previously, Anna managed EPA’s technical assistance programs in Central and Eastern Europe from 1990-2004. She holds a degree from Tufts University in Soviet and East European Studies.

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