Press Release

The Vjosa River again an issue in The European Parliament

Brussels, June 29th, 2016. Within the frame of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, EcoAlbania together with international partner organizations RiverWatch and EuroNatur brought to the attention of the European Parliament and European Commission the hydropower issue in the last natural river in Europe. Directed by Vice President of EP, Ulrike Lunacek, on June 29th, 2016 was held a special roundtable of discussion dedicated to the Balkan rivers and to the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, where the main attention was focused on Vjosa River.

Mrs. Lunacek initially mentioned her visit a month ago in the Vjosa River while she shared her exceptional experience in this river. “I was doing rafting on Vjosa for about 3 hours and believe me that was one of the most extraordinary experiences, enjoying rafting in such a magnificent river and gorgeous surrounding landscape. It’s really disappointing that this natural heritage will be destroyed by the construction of hydropower plants. Vjosa is a river that deserves to be protected for future generations but also for tourism development “, she said.

In his speech the MEP reporter for Albania Mr. Fleckenstein stressed out the importance of preserving the Vjosa and its sustainable use through the ecotourism development. “I am very often present in Albania, but unfortunately I have enjoyed very little of its wonderful nature. However regarding Vjosa, I think that this river is one of the greatest potentials for tourism development in Albania“, he said. Bringing to attention the tourism development in Austria attracting many of German visitors, Mr. Fleckenstein stressed that this development model is the best model for Albania focusing on Vjosa River as one of the greatest potentials.

I do not think that the Balkan needs to build additional 1000 new hydropower but what I think is needed, is to find alternatives and to invest more in the development of nature related tourism“, he added.

Other MEPs, reporters for the Balkan countries we present at the meeting, such as Igor Soltes, Ivo Vajgl and representatives of the European Commission, as well as ambassadors, media and civil society representatives.

Victoria Pirker

During the meeting in the EP © Victoria Pirker

After the presentation of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, where the values, beauty and the potential for development of the Balkan rivers were highlighted, the main attention was paid to the threats with which these rivers are facing. The Campaign representatives Gabriel Schwaderer from EuroNatur and Ulrich Eichelmann from RiverWatch pointed out the need to develop a regional master plan with clearly defined “no-go” areas to build hydropower plants.

Two main points of the discussion were Radika River Basin in Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia and Vjosa River in Albania. EcoAlbania’s representative Mr. Olsi Nika expressed his concern for the lack of planning and transparency of the Albanian Government regarding the construction of hydropower plants.

There are planned to be built around 500 HPP- s, on 3000 river km of the entire hydro-graphic network in Albania. By a simple calculation, results that in each 6 km of a stream will be build a power plant. We think that it is not based on a plan that will bring more development rather than on a political directive and short-terms benefits, “he said.

In the Mavrovo National Park case the representative of NGO FRONT, Mrs. Aleksandra Bujaroska cited legal battles that the civil society has taken to counter two major hydropower projects within the park “Lukovo Pole” and “Boskov Most” respectively financed by the EBRD and the World Bank.

We have made our institutional efforts using all the mechanisms that would lead to the solution of not destroying one of the oldest National Parks in Europe, which is home to many important species where the most important one is surely the Balkan lynx (Lynx lynx balcanicus). We have filed a complaint to the Berne Convention and have managed to suspend for the moment the work for these HPP-s, but it will definitely be a long battle“, she said.

Mr. Stefan Leiner, Director of Biodiversity Unit at the DG Environment of the European Commission once again reiterated the need for strategic planning and design of a regional master plan. “The need for a masterplan on HPPs in the Balkans is immediate because in this part of Europe which intends to integrate into the European family, the rivers are still in good condition and if they should be destroyed, it would mean a cost several fold greater for us as it will be our task later to restore these rivers when the Balkan countries like Albania will join the EU “, he said.  Additionally Mr. Leiner highlighted the need of the preparation of the guiding documents by EU for the Balkan countries, which will help these countries in strategic planning. On the other hand with special emphasis on the Vjosa River he raised the necessity for research as the data regarding this river of scientific importance are very limited.

In her greeting speech, the Ambassador of Albania in Brussels Mrs. Suela Janina said that she would interfere to her government in Tirana to protect the Vjosa River and to declare it a National Park. “I feel proud and sad at the same time in regard Vjosa. However, let me express my commitment stating that I am deeply obliged to protect this natural treasure. I will make all my efforts so the Vjosa River will reach to our descendants as we have inherited it, “she concluded.

In the closing speech of the meeting, Mrs. Lunacek emphasized once again the importance of the Balkan rivers and especially Vjosa River. “Let me emphasize that this is not just a meeting supported by the green group in the European Parliament but I assure you that the issue of the Balkan rivers and Vjosa has the attention of all the groups in the EP and the European Commission as well. On the other hand it is worth mentioning that this is not a closed meeting that ends here, but is the launching of a lobbying process to the decision makers of the Balkan countries to save the Balkan rivers, this extraordinary natural heritage of Europe”, she said.

On May of this year Vice President of EP, visited the Vjosa in one of the activities undertaken within the “Balkan rivers Tour” and after her return to PE she reported this experience and called for protection of this treasure of the European heritage.

by Olsi Nika/ EcoAlbania