A year after the opening of negotiations, the EU against the Albanian government

A year after the opening of negotiations, the EU against the Albanian government

A year after the opening of negotiations, the EU against the Albanian government

Author: Artan Rama Citizens Channel


The Albanian government has been put under pressure again this early autumn after the Berne Convention (International Treaty for the Conservation of Nature) has recommended the suspension of works on the continental airport that is being built in the wetland ecosystem of Narta. The European Commission, as a member of the Steering Committee of the Convention, supported the decision. All members of the Steering Committee unanimously supported it.

The decision was taken in an extraordinary (online) meeting, on the morning of June 26 (2023), of the Bureau of the Steering Committee, in response to the urgent situation on the ground, where the construction of the airport has long been underway. The action is an attempt to stop the further advancement of works in a territory, which is considered of high ecological and biological importance, subject to protection by several conventions and international treaties (Ramsar Convention, Emerald Network, IBA, Adriatic Flyway Site, etc. ).

The decision was made official this week, on September 13 , bringing to three the number of European political institutions that oppose the construction of the airport, since the opening of Albania’s negotiations with the European Union (EU). Earlier in July of this year, the European Parliament also requested the ban on the airport.

The decision of the Steering Committee (Berne Convention) extends only to the first point of the recommendation, which contains in itself the element of urgency for the immediate stop of the works. Bern has promised other measures in November, to adopt other elements of the recommendation, at the annual meeting of the Steering Committee.

Rama has publicly ignored Bern, so there is not much enthusiasm left for a positive reaction from the Albanian government, which was indifferent even during the exchange of letters (information) with the Convention, especially in the last year (2023). We recall that the issue was presented in Strasbourg for the first time, in 2016, in the context of the negative impacts of the concessionary contracts for the construction of hydropower plants planned in Vjosa. But in 2019, EcoAlbania, a local environmental organization (Albania), with a contribution to the protection of the Vjosa River, referred to Berna that the Albanian government was planning to build a large airport at the mouth of the river.

The adoption of recommendations by member states of the Convention has a long history of communications between the parties. But the Albanian authorities have always been reserved and, at least, during the last year they have been silent, not responding to the needs of the parties raised for the airport. Recognizing closely the inertness of the bureaucratic decision-making of European institutions, controlling and predicting every detail, many can come to the conclusion that the decision to ask the Albanian government to stop the works constitutes an achievement in favor of nature and its conservation.

The Organization for the Protection of the Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) is expected to organize a protest, this afternoon, to encourage the government to review its rejectionist position. In addition, the Alliance for the Protection of Wetlands (Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands) and 33 organizations have sent dedicated letters to the European Commission, IATA and Prime Minister Edi Rama asking for the ban of this airport and the protection of the area. 33 other environmental organizations representing 26 countries asked Prime Minister Rama yesterday evening to ban the airport.

Until a few days ago, the government hoped that the matter would be left to be discussed in a few months, at the 43rd meeting of the Steering Committee of the Berne Convention at the end of the year, in the hope that work on the site would advance. Earlier, she had requested sufficient time for the verification of facts and situations, claiming the opening of an inter-ministerial consultation within the government. She also promised to provide other arguments to justify her position.

But in one year, the Albanian government did not respect any promise, any deadline. Her last reaction was the claim, addressed to the Steering Committee at the end of last year (December 2022), that the airport issue should not be included, alongside the Vjosa issue. But a number of members, state representatives of the Steering Committee disputed the claim and pointed out that as long as the Narta Lagoon is part of Vjosa, the construction of an airport near this lagoon includes it as well. During an online meeting (March 2023), the Bureau supported this opinion, and finally rejected the government’s claim to separate the airport case from the Vjosa case, and specifically, the Bureau decided to update the name of the file to reflect current developments in: “The alleged negative impact of developments on the Vjosa river that includes… and Vlora International Airport”.

And perhaps this position of Bern deserves as much attention from the parties as the recommendation to ban the airport. Because he exposes the government’s propaganda campaign for Vjosa, teaching us (for the umpteenth time in the history of activism) the indisputable lesson that green decision-making from above does not guarantee a green future.

As long as there will be an airport with continental routes in the Vjosa delta, to the detriment of nature, “Vjosa National Park” will remain a farce.

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