European Parliament and Commission divided on national parks in Bulgaria

Wednesday, 11 July 2018 08:31
Pirin National Park, Bulgaria Pirin National Park, Bulgaria © Dimitar Gramatikov/WWF
Two national parks in Bulgaria are threatened by construction plans according to a letter sent last week to the European Commission by representatives of all major political groups in the European Parliament. The MEPs call on the Commission to launch an infringement procedure against Bulgaria as a matter of urgency.
The Pirin National Park is a Natura 2000 area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site but the Bulgarian government plans to open up almost half of the area to construction. Kresna Gorge, also a Natura 2000 site, is under threat due to the construction of the Struma motorway.

The Pirin National Park has centuries-old forests and inherent intact landscape and biodiversity. Kresna Gorge is Bulgaria’s richest biodiversity site and a habitat for almost a hundred EU-protected species.

The MEPs claim that both parks should be protected under EU law. Construction plans should be stopped and the whole motorway should be built outside the park.

“We note with concern that the answers of the Commission to parliamentary questions conclude that no violations of EU-law have occurred in Pirin to date,” the MEPs write.

“A recent court ruling by a Bulgarian court did not stop the construction plans. These plans pose an immediate risk for the unique flora and wildlife and violate the Natura 2000 directive.”

Katerina Rakovska, WWF-Bulgaria conservation expert, commented on Monday (9 July) that the motorway is supported by EU structural funds. “It will be shocking to see EU protected nature being destroyed with EU funds and before the eyes of EU institutions.”

An EU official told The Brussels Times that Commissioner Karmenu Vella, in charge of environment and to whom the letter was addressed, will reply officially.

The official commented on both projects. As regards the Pirin national park there is no Commission decision on the matter as the management of Natura 2000 is national competence. “At this stage, there is no breach of EU environmental rules. The Commission will follow the matter.”

The Struma motorway is a major infrastructure project aimed at ensuring better connectivity in Bulgaria and with its neighbours. “The Commission supports the completion of the motorway and its construction is partly funded by the EU budget.”

To date, the Commission has not received an application for funding from the Bulgarian authorities concerning the remaining lot of the Struma motorway, the official added.

“Should such an application be made, the Commission will evaluate it under the Regulation governing the European structural and investment funds and the relevant EU environmental legislation.”

The Brussels Times
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