The Vjosa River again in the European Parliament

Brussels, June 29, 2016. In the framework of the “Saving the blue heart of Europe” campaign, EcoAlbania together with RiverWatch and EuroNatur brought to the attention of the European Parliament and the European Commission the issue of the construction of hydropower plants in the last natural river in Europe.

Directed by Deputy The President of the EP, Ulrike Lunacek, on June 29, 2016, held a session dedicated to the rivers of the Balkans and the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” Campaign, where the main attention was focused on Vjosa.

Ms. Lunacek first stopped at the visit of a month ago to the Vjosa river as well as her last experience of sailing on this river. “I have personally been in Vjosa doing rafting for about 3 hours and believe me it was one of the most extraordinary experiences, enjoying sailing on such a river and the wonderful scenery around. It is really unfortunate that this natural heritage is being destroyed by the construction of HPPs. Vjosa is a river that deserves to be protected for future generations but also for the development of tourism” – she emphasized.

In his speech, the reporter of the European Parliament for Albania, Mr. Fleckenstein, focused on the importance of preserving Vjosa and its sustainable use through the development of eco-tourism. “I am often present in Albania, but unfortunately I have enjoyed very little of its wonderful nature. However, as far as Vjosa is concerned, I think that this river is one of the biggest potentials for the development of tourism in Albania” – he said. Comparing the development of tourism in Austria and the attraction of many German visitors, Mr. Fleckenstein emphasized that this development model is the most suitable for Albania as well, focusing on the Vjosa river as one of the biggest potentials.

He further added – “I don’t think the Balkans need to build another 1000 HPPs, but what they need is to find alternatives and invest in the development of natural tourism”.

Also present at the meeting were other MEPs, reporters for the Balkan countries, such as Igor Šoltes, Ivo Vajgl, as well as representatives of the European Commission, ambassadors, media and civil society.

During the meeting at the European Parliament. (c) V. Pirker

After the presentation of the Campaign “To save the blue heart of Europe” where the values, beauties and development potential that the rivers of the Balkans carry, special attention was also paid to the threat that these rivers face. Campaign representatives Gabriel Schwaderer and Ulrich Eichelmann emphasized the need for the drafting of a Regional Master Plan that clearly defines the “prohibited” areas for the construction of hydropower plants.

The two main points where the discussion was focused were precisely the Radika River Basin in Mavrova National Park in Macedonia and the Vjosa River in Albania. The representative of EcoAlbania Mr. Olsi Nika focused on the lack of planning and transparency on the part of the Albanian Government regarding the construction of hydropower plants.

“In about 3000 km of river length of the hydrographic network in Albania, about 500 HPPs are planned. If a simple calculation is made, it results that a HPP will be built in every 6 km of a stream. We think that this is not based on a plan that will bring development rather than on political directives and immediate benefits”, he emphasized.

In the case of Mavrova National Park, the representative of the NGO FRONT, Mrs. Alexandra Bujarosk mentioned the legal battles that the civil society there has undertaken to oppose the two large hydropower projects within the park “Lukovo Pole” and “Boshkov Most” financed by the EBRD and the World Bank.

“We have made our institutional efforts using all the mechanisms that would enable a solution to not destroy one of the oldest National Parks in Europe, which is home to many important species, the most prominent of which is undoubtedly the lynx Balkan Lynx lynx balcanicus. We filed a complaint with the Complaints Commission of the Berne Convention and managed to suspend the works for these HPPs for the moment, however, the battle will be long,” she said.

Stefan Leiner, Director of the Department of Biodiversity at DG Environment at the European Commission, once again emphasized the need for strategic planning and the drafting of a regional master plan. He said: – “The need for a master plan on HPPs in the Balkans is immediate because in this part which aims to integrate into the European family, the rivers are still in good condition and if they were to be destroyed, this would mean a the cost is several times greater for us as it will be our later task to restore these very rivers when the Balkan countries like Albania join the EU”. Furthermore, Mr. Leiner also mentioned the preparation of orientation documents by the EU for the Balkan countries which would help these countries in strategic planning. On the other hand, with a special emphasis on the Vjosa river, he raised the need for research, since the scientific data for this river are very limited.

In the welcoming speech, the ambassador of Albania in Brussels Mrs. Suela Janina said that she would influence her Government in Tirana to protect the Vjosa river and to declare it a National Park. “I feel proud and at the same time sad about the Vjosa river. However, allow me to express my commitment by emphasizing that I am deeply obliged to protect this natural wealth. I will make all my efforts to leave Vjosa to our descendants as we have inherited it,” she concluded.

In the closing speech of the meeting Mrs. Lunacek once again emphasized the importance of the Balkan rivers and the Vjosa river in particular for Europe. She said: “Let me emphasize that this is not a meeting that only has the support of the green group in the European Parliament, but I assure you that the issue of the rivers of the Balkans and Vjosa has the attention of all groups in the EP and in the Commission European. On the other hand, what is worth noting is that this is not a closed and finished meeting here, but it is the start of a lobbying process among the decision makers of the Balkan countries to save the rivers, this extraordinary natural heritage of Europe!

In May of this year, Deputy The President of the EP visited Vjosa in one of the activities undertaken within the “Balkan Rivers Tour” and after her return to the EP she reported on this experience and called for the protection of this treasure of European heritage.

From Olsi Nika/EcoAlbania

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