Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia/Cooperation


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Cooperation with national authorities and implementation of decisions

Implementation of a joint body’s decisions is possible only through cooperation between the joint body and the national authorities of participating countries. Some agreements establishing joint bodies require that the decisions of joint bodies be approved at the national level according to the laws of the participating countries. For example, the Agreement between Czechoslovakia and Poland Concerning the Use of the Water Resources in Frontier Waters (1958), still in force for the Czech Republic and Poland, prescribes that proposals adopted by the plenipotentiaries shall not be binding until they have been approved in accordance with the law of each Party. The agreements may not provide for the need of such approval. However, the implementation of joint bodies’ decisions, in any case, usually requires the adoption of some documents by national authorities. The only exception is the Finnish-Swedish Frontier Rivers Commission, which directly issues and recalls permits for some water uses and therefore replaces the national authorities. Finland and Sweden, however, are currently planning a reform of this commission.

Adequate representation in a joint body of the national authorities, ministries and agencies responsible for water resources management contributes to the implementation of that joint body’s decisions. The inclusion in a joint body and its working organs of representatives of only one agency (usually one responsible for water or environment or agriculture) may lead to weakening IWRM and may limit possibilities for implementing decisions at the national level. At the same time, the representation of countries in a joint body, especially in its decision-making organs, should be at a high political level, in order to ensure further implementation of decisions at the national level.

Reporting mechanisms for the Parties to a joint body on implementation of individual decisions (as in ICPR) or within the framework of general reporting commitments (as in ICPDR) can both be regarded as mechanisms to ensure the implementation of decisions.

Another mechanism to support implementation is the appointment by participating countries of competent authorities responsible for implementation of the agreement in their territories. An agreement may stipulate the duty of the Parties to nominate competent authorities (e.g. the Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin), or may simply name such authorities. For example, the Agreement between the Russian Federation and Belarus of 2002 names the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus as the competent authorities for implementing the Agreement.

The creation by a joint body of additional structures at the national level is a further way to ensure decisions’ implementation. For example, the National Mekong Committees coordinate Mekong River Commission’s programmes at the national level and provide links between the Commission’s secretariat and the national ministries and line agencies.

Irrespective of mechanisms to coordinate and support implementation of decisions, it is very important that the riparian States consider implementation not as a burden, but rather as a process of cooperation, mutual assistance and support. The Convention on the Protection of the Rhine (1999) requests Parties to report to the ICPR on measures they have taken on the basis of ICPR decisions and on problems arising in implementation of these measures. If a Party cannot implement the Commission’s decisions, in full or in part, it shall report this. The Commission organizes consultations and may decide that measures will be taken to assist the implementation of the decisions. According to the Statute of the ICPDR, the Commission’s decision becomes binding on the first day of the eleventh month following the date of its adoption for all Parties that voted for it and have not within that period notified the Executive Secretary that they are unable to accept the decision. A decision becomes binding for any other Party only if it notifies the Executive Secretary that it is able to accept the decision. Therefore, the States are provided with an opportunity to analyse their capacities and to prepare for implementation of Commission’s decisions.

Ensuring implementation of decisions is extremely relevant for joint bodies established by or with participation of EECCA States. Although these joint bodies face different challenges with regard to implementation, the major problem is that their decisions often have a narrow influence on issues important for cooperation. This is largely due to the fact that water management authorities are the only governmental authorities represented in a joint body. In some cases, local authorities participate in the activities of joint bodies (this is true, in particular, for joint bodies involving the Russian Federation), which helps to focus cooperation on the needs of boundary regions and contributes to implementation at the local level. However, environment, fishery, health, energy, hydrometeorology, economy and finance authorities at best participate in the activities of a joint body on a case-by-case basis or in the framework of selected working groups.

Although some reporting does take place (e.g. in form of monitoring reports or activity reports developed prior to regular sessions of commissions or plenipotentiaries, or in form of publications on selected issues), the majority of agreements between or involving EECCA States do not include any reporting requirements, either in relation to development by a joint body of activity, monitoring or other reports upon request of the Parties, or in relation to reporting by Parties concerning the implementation of the decisions adopted by a joint body. The Statute of the Chu-Talas Commission, approved in 2006, may therefore be considered a positive practice in this respect. The Statute requires Chairpersons of the Commission to report at the sessions of the Commission on measures taken to ensure implementation of decisions. The Statute also explicitly empowers the Chu-Talas Commission to consider and approve annual reports.

International Cooperation of Joint Bodies

The UNECE Water Convention suggests that riparian Parties invite a coastal State directly and significantly affected by transboundary impact to be involved in the activities of joint bodies established by riparian Parties. The Water Convention also requires joint bodies to cooperate with joint bodies established by coastal States for the protection of the marine environment as well as with joint bodies in the same catchment area. The goals of such cooperation are to harmonize the work of joint bodies and to strengthen the prevention, control and reduction of transboundary impact.

The cooperation of joint bodies may be implemented via granting observer status, signing agreements or memoranda on cooperation or setting up joint working groups or task forces, as well as through implementation of joint projects.

Granting observer status is quite common for the river commissions in the UNECE region. Such cooperation is implemented both between commissions with different regulatory fields and between commissions overlapping geographically. For example, ICPDR grants observer status to the Danube Commission, established by the Convention regarding the Regime of Navigation on the Danube (1948), and to the Sava Commission (the Sava is a tributary of the Danube). In 2007, these three commissions agreed upon a Joint Statement on Inland Navigation and Environmental Sustainability in the Danube River Basin. In a similar way, ICPR grants observer status to the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine established in accordance with decisions of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, as well as to the Mosel-Saar Commissions. ICPR also grants observer status to “neighbouring” commissions, such as the International Commission for the Meuse/Maas, the International Commission for the Scheldt and the International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe. Many of above mentioned commissions grant observer status to each other.

Cooperation of river commissions takes place in other regions as well, e.g. in 2004 the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee of La Plata Basin Countries and the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization signed a Letter of Understanding concerning the exchange of information and cooperation in activities of common interest.

There are no examples of such cooperation in EECCA. However, in some cases, there is also no need for a formalized cooperation, since the same officials participate in activities of several joint bodies. For example, in 2007, the same public official served as the Plenipotentiary of Ukraine for the Agreement of 1994 with the Republic of Moldova and for the Agreement of 1997 with Romania.

Cooperation of River Commissions and Sea Commissions

The Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution, established by the Convention of 1992, and ICPDR have developed close cooperation. In 2001, these commissions signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The Joint Danube-Black Sea Technical Working Group was established to support the implementation of the Memorandum. This body is currently drafting guidelines for achieving good environmental status for the coastal waters of the Black Sea, in line with the EU WFD. The Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution and ICPDR are both members of the DABLAS Task Force[1] , set up in 2001 as a platform for cooperation between international financing institutions, donors and countries of the region to ensure the protection of water and water-related ecosystems in the Danube and the Black Sea.

Many other examples of cooperation between river and sea commissions exist. One is that of the ICPR and the OSPAR Commission, which promotes international cooperation under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (1992). The two Commissions grant each other observer status.

In recent years, cooperation of river commissions that do not necessarily overlap geographically has become more and more important. The concept of twinning suggested by the Netherlands at the Second World Water Forum in 2000 in The Hague implies that river basin organizations located in different regions of the world have valuable experience to share, and that the exchange of such experience could contribute to their institutional strengthening, improvement of activities and increased efficiency. Ultimately, such exchange is an instrument contributing to the implementation of IWRM. The concept of twinning occupies an important place in the activities of the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO).[2]

Efforts to establish joint bodies receive wide support from the international organizations (e.g. UNECE, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), UNDP, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union), financial institutions (e.g. World Bank, ADB) and bilateral donors (e.g. Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States).

Establishment of Joint Bodies

Specific efforts towards the establishment of joint bodies are part of several international initiatives. Strengthening transboundary water cooperation in South Eastern Europe is the goal of the Petersberg Phase II/Athens Declaration Process. The Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe has also provided support to such initiatives, in particular the Sava River cooperation. The ENVSEC Initiative, a joint effort of UNDP, UNEP, OSCE, UNECE and the Regional Environmental Center for CEE (with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as an associate member) develops and implements transboundary water cooperation projects. Cooperation on transboundary waters in Africa is supported through the Africa Action Plan, agreed by G8 leaders in 2002. In many subregions, including EECCA, the establishment of joint bodies and strengthening transboundary water cooperation are considered to be among the important tasks of the EU Water Initiative, a partnership initiated by the EU at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. The implementation of the EU WFD and the European Neighbourhood Policy may contribute to the development of joint bodies with participation of EECCA countries.

Financial support to individual joint bodies is provided, in particular, by the World Bank, GEF, the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, ADB, the Islamic Development Bank, the European Commission, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States as well as other countries and organizations.

Role of international organizations in setting up the Chu-Talas Commission

In 2000, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan entered into an agreement which provided for the opportunity to create permanent commissions in future. The process of setting up the Chu-Talas Commission was successfully promoted by international organizations.

Since 2003, the establishment of a permanent commission has been supported by a joint project of UNECE, UNESCAP and OSCE: “Support for the creation of a transboundary water commission on Chu and Talas Rivers between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan”. In 2004, the EU-TACIS project “Support for Regional Water Management and Strengthening the Capacity of Basin Water Organizations for Improved Resource Planning” was implemented in partnership with IFAS. The outcome of the project was a strategic document, “IWRM in Chu and Talas Basins”. Since 2005, the ADB project “Improvement of Shared Water Resources Management in Central Asia” has supported, inter alia, financing of the Commission’s secretariat.

The Statute of the Chu-Talas Commission was approved in 2006. It regulates the scope of activity, composition, main tasks and powers of the Commission, as well as the procedure for border crossing. The inauguration of the Commission took place in 2006. By early 2009, the Commission had met seven times.

The creation of the Chu-Talas Commission may serve as an example of successful cooperation between the riparian States with respect to the use of transboundary river resources, as well as between international organizations to support efforts of riparian States. The experience of Chu-Talas Commission could be used when creating other river basin commissions in Central Asia.


  1. Danube Black Sea (DABLAS) Task Force for co-operation on water protection in the wider Black Sea Region (
  2. The project “Promoting Twinning of River Basins for Developing Integrated Water Resources Management Practices” in the framework of the INBO-Global Water Partnership Associated Programme “Developing and Strengthening of River Basin Organizations” has been active for several years, supported by the European Commission.

See also

Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia

Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia/Competence, functions and tasks

Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia/Organization, rules of procedure & decision-making

Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia/Public participation and Financing

Intergovernmental transboundary waters agreements concluded with participation of EECCA countries from the beginning of the 1990s

International Law for the management, use and protection of transboundary watercourses and the establishment of Joint Bodies

International mechanisms for transboundary water cooperation

Establishment and improvement of Joint Bodies in countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia

External Resources


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