Joint press release by EcoAlbania, Riverwatch and EuroNatur
++ Environmental assessments inadequate ++
Tirana, Vienna, Radolfzell, February 17, 2017. In the current Enlargement Report of the European Parliament, the Parliament explicitly criticizes the Albanian government in regards to its hydropower policies. In the centre of their criticism are the hydropower projects on the Vjosa – Europe’s last big wild river. The EU parliamentarians specifically demand not to go through with these hydropower projects and instead establish a national park along the entire course of the river (see below No. 32).
Such a “Wild River National Park” would be the first in Europe and would not only preserve the life line Vjosa but also provide economic prospects to local communities, says Olsi Nika, coordinator of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign at EcoAlbania. The mayors of the region have previously already advocated for the establishment of a national park and against the construction of dams.
The report produced under the direction of the German parliamentarian Knut Fleckenstein also calls for adjusting the quality of environmental assessments to EU standards (see below No. 31). Such assessments are frequently of poor quality in Albania. Particularly the impacts of hydropower plants – so the report – are commonly not being surveyed or misrepresented.
This is particularly true for the hydropower project “Poçem”, which is planned to be constructed on the Vjosa river. The Environmental Impact Assessment provided by the Turkish investor is a farce. 60% of the text was simply copy-pasted word-for-word from other projects. The impacts on affected species were not dealt with at all. Nevertheless, the project was approved.
“We filed a law suit against this project with the court in Tirana. This EU report is of help for us and supports the local communities”, says Ulrich Eichelmann, coordinator of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign at Riverwatch.
Current Enlargement Report of the European Parliament
31. Notes with concern the limited nature of the administrative capacities for enforcement of environmental law, as well as the poor waste management and water management, often resulting in environmental crime that threatens Albania’s economic resources and constitutes a barrier to a resource-efficient economy; underlines the need to improve the quality of environmental impact assessments, as well as to guarantee public participation and consultation of civil society in relevant projects; stresses the crucial importance of meeting climate change objectives without negatively impacting on biodiversity, the landscape, water resources, flora and fauna, and affected local populations; is deeply concerned about the fact that, according to the Commission, 44 of 71 hydropower plant projects are under construction in protected areas;
32. Highlights that the environmental impact of hydropower plants is often not properly assessed to ensure compliance with international standards and relevant EU nature legislation; advises the government to consider the establishment of a Vjosa National Park along the whole length of the river and to abandon plans for new hydropower plants along the Vjosa river and its tributaries; urges further alignment with EU legislation in the field of energy, particularly on the adoption of a national energy strategy, in order to increase energy independence and efficiency; welcomes the 2015-2020 national action plan for renewable energy sources (RESs);
The Vjosa is the last big wild river in Europe outside Russia. Entirely unobstructed, she flows through inaccessible gorges and sections with enormous gravel banks and islands on her course of almost 270 kilometers from the Pindus Mountains to the Adriatic Sea. The Albanian government under Prime Minister Edi Rama is currently about to have a Turkish company construct a hydropower project within the ecologically most valuable stretch of the Vjosa.
The campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” aims to protect the most valuable rivers in the Balkans. The campaign is coordinated by the NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and carried out together with partner organisations in the Balkan countries.