Credit: Costas Tavernarakis

Will Białowieża court ruling put other development plans on ice?

The Bulgarian government has announced that it will go ahead with plans to construct an international motorway partially through Kresna Gorge, a wildlife hotspot protected by EU nature rules.

But these kinds of nature-unfriendly development plans could be stopped in their tracks by the fallout from a decision by the EU’s top court. The Polish government now faces a €100,000 a day fine for illegal logging in Białowieża forest.

Environmental campaigners are hopeful that this ruling could have implications for Kresna Gorge too.

Nature-rich Kresna Gorge is 16km-long  gorge is home to 35 protected habitats and 92 protected species. Experts estimate that twice as many butterfly species live in Kresna Gorge than in all of the UK.

Local and European NGOs say that building the motorway will be devastating for the rare wildlife in the gorge, will hamper the development of sustainable eco-tourism, and be the death knell for communities whose homes and businesses will be cut off.
Anelia Stefanova, Programme Director CEE Bankwatch Network, said:

The Bulgarian Government has taken an outrageous decision that breaches EU law, destroys European natural heritage, and violates the rights of local communities. The European Commission has no choice now but to seriously consider the case and block Bulgaria from using EU funds to break EU laws.”

The motorway plans involve the last remaining section of the European E79 highway, which connects Germany and Bulgaria and is part of the EU-funded trans-European motorway network. On 13 November the Commission on Monday earmarked €330 million of EU funds to help finance the Kresna Gorge section – despite a 2008 assessment from the European Commission itself stating that routing motorway traffic through the gorge would be illegal.

NGOs have campaigned for the motorway to take an alternative route that would avoid damaging the gorge and they have petitioned European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to reign in the Bulgarian authorities. In July this year NGOs from the ‘Save Kresna Coalition’ filed a legal complaint to the European Commission, in which they said the Bugarian government’s plans were in breach of EU nature protection rules.

Robbie Blake, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said:

It is distressing to see the Bulgarian Government decide needlessly to destroy this European natural jewel with this motorway. The European Commission must not allow Kresna Gorge’s stunning endangered wildlife to be massacred using EU taxpayer funds – it would be a crime under EU nature protection laws and much less damaging alternatives exist.”