The European Parliament asks the government to create the Vjosa National Park

Environmental organizations have welcomed the EP resolution on Albania’s progress in 2016, where Prime Minister Edi Rama’s government is asked to suspend energy projects and create the Vjosa National Park.

In the EP resolution for Albania, concern is expressed over the energy policy pursued by the government for the construction of hydropower plants and it is suggested that Tirana consider the construction of the Vjosa park, along the entire length of the river, as well as the abandonment of projects to build hydropower plants in its course.

The course of the river Vjosa. (c) G. Subic

“[Assessment] of the environmental impact of hydropower plants is often not done properly and in accordance with European standards and EU legislation; [EP] advises the government to consider the creation of the Vjosa National Park along its entire length and to abandon plans for the construction of new hydropower plants on the Vjosa River and its tributaries,” the resolution reads.

Vjosa is one of the last wild rivers in Europe, which has great natural values for the Balkans and the continent.

Despite Prime Minister Rama’s electoral promise to declare Vjosa a National Park and ban the construction of hydropower plants, in July 2015 the Council of Ministers opened the way for the procedure for the concession of the Pocem hydropower plant.

In November 2016, the Ministry of Energy announced the granting of permission for the construction of the hydropower plant and the signing of the contract with the Turkish company “Kovlu Energy”.

The recommendation of the EP is also supported by the mayors of the Vjosa valley, who meanwhile have expressed themselves in favor of declaring the Vjosa National Park and oppose the construction of hydropower plants.

“Such a park of a wild river would be the first in Europe and would not only preserve the longevity of Vjosa but would provide well-being to the inhabitants of the valley,” said Olsi Nika, coordinator of the “Save the Blue Heart” campaign of Europe” from EcoAlbania.

The resolution drawn up under the leadership of German parliamentarian Knut Fleckenstein, also calls for the improvement of the quality of Environmental Impact Assessment reports according to EU standards.

According to Eco Albania, these reports are of low quality, where mainly the impacts of hydropower plants are not done properly or are misinterpreted. The environmental organization highlights that in the case of the Pocem hydropower plant, which is planned to be built on the Vjosa river, the EIA report presented by the Turkish company is a complete farce.

According to Ulrich Eichelmann, coordinator of the “Save Europe’s Blue Heart” campaign at the Austrian organization Riverwatch, 60% of the text in the EIA approved for the Počem HPP is copied verbatim from other reports, and the impacts on living things around have not been evaluated at all.

“Therefore, we have opened a judicial process against this project in the Administrative Court in Tirana. This EU report comes to our aid and supports the affected residents,” says Eichelmann.

The organizations EcoAlbania from Albania, Riverwatch from Austria and EuroNatur from Germany, as well as 38 residents of the affected areas have sued the Ministry of Energy and Industry, the Ministry of the Environment and the National Environment Agency and requested the absolute invalidity of the concession procedures, as well as the finding that illegality of the contract with the company “Kovlu Energji” for the HEC in Počem.

The plaintiffs consider the construction of the hydropower plant as a plan for the destruction of Vjosa and request through the lawsuit ‘the suspension of any decision or promise for this hydropower plant’.

The article published by / BIRN can be found here (in Albanian).

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