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NGOs challenge the Romanian Government at Aarhus Convention and EU Commission over forest logging disaster

Brasov, Romania (April 8, 2019) – Today, in a press conference held in Brasov next to the Conference of EU Nature Directors, the forest lawyer of Agent Green announced the launch of complaints against the Romanian government due to strong evidence of legal breaches of EU legislation in relation to the ongoing logging disaster in Romania’s forests. The complaints criticise systemic failures by Romania: Forest management plans including logging permissions within Natura 2000 sites have been approved before any environmental checks and public consultations were pursued. The formal complaint will be submitted to the European Commission and the Aarhus Compliance Committee.

The press conference took place at the same venue where EU 28 biodiversity directors met during the Romanian presidency of the EU. The officials were welcomed with protest banners by Agent Green activists and invited to watch filmed evidence of recent destruction of EU protected Natura 2000 sites. The footage contradicts the claim of the Romanian Government that all laws and regulations are adhered to in Romania’s forests A broadcast on Facebook exposed giant clear-cuts stretching over whole mountain slopes in the Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site and was shown to journalist and officials attending the EU conference.

Dezastrul din Munții Făgăraș from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

„The Romanian government enforced the forestry management plans within Natura 2000 sites before performing Strategic Environmental Assessments and the Appropriate Assessments as required by European legislation, and before the approval Order of the environmental minister was issued. The enforcement of the forest management plans before the environmental evaluation even started also breaches the Aarhus Convention, because public consultation must be realised before any decision was made, not after the plan was already enforced. We urge the EU Commission and the Aarhus Compliance Committee to turn this into a quick and hard infringement against Romania to halt the progressing large scale logging in many of Europe’s most valuable natural and virgin forests within Natura 2000 sites”, said Catalina Radulescu, Romanian lawyer partnering with Agent Green.

Romania hosts the largest natural and virgin forest heritage within the temperate climate zone of the EU. Several hundreds of thousands of hectares of these high conservation value forests are located within Natura 2000 sites, but lack proper protection. Thus, Agent Green and the Germany based EuroNatur Foundation are collaborating to document the systemic failure of the Romanian government to ensure proper implementation of the Natura 2000 protected areas network.
However, the Romanian government has denied access to relevant environmental information, meaning NGOs have not been able to give hard and detailed proof for the systemic implementation errors, which are clearly identifiable in many of Romania’s Natura 2000 sites. For this reason, no formal complaint for breaches of Natura 2000 has yet been filed with the European Commission.

„The destruction in the old-growth and virgin forests is clearly visible on satellite images and on the ground. In order to be able to file a complaint there is the need to provide documented evidence that breaches of Nature Directives are intentional and ongoing. But the Romanian government restricts access to relevant environmental information that should have been made available publicly. The Romanian Justice backs up this behaviour. So we are currently running 32 trials just to get access to the forest management plans. Having access to this documents is key to check consistency of forest management plans with the Natura 2000 management regimes to preserve listed habitats and species. Since the Justice ruled in some of the cases to keep this information secret we have no other choice but to escalate this case with the Aarhus Compliance Committee for violation of both access to information and public consultation pillars. We are confident that Aarhus will counter and correct the Romanian judiciary”, said Gabriel Paun from Agent Green.

Raising the Alarm for Romanian Forests from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

European Parliament: High Level Conference about Virgin Forests Crisis in Romania

Romania hosts the largest tracts of virgin forests within the EU. But they are vanishing due to industrial logging, corruption and corporate greed. However, this major nature tragedy is almost unknown in wider Europe. Therefore, EuroNatur Foundation and Romanian environmental organisation Agent Green organised an expert conference in the European Parliament in Brussels on the 8th November. The conference was hosted by Thomas Waitz and Benedek Jávor, both Member of the European Parliament.

Benedek Jávor opened the conference with the words: “Virgin forests have a special importance in Europe, not only for biodiversity but also for ecosystem services… In Romania they are under huge pressure not only from illegal logging, but also from legal logging. Deforestation is closely related to corruption issues and problems with governance. Low level of governance and high level of corruption contribute to legal and illegal logging.”

Thomas Waitz then also  gave a clear introduction: “I am a forester, I’m not against logging as such.” He had been in Romania in May 2018 upon invitation from EuroNatur and Agent Green. During this trip he also talked to corporations and found out that forest areas are massively overlogged. In national parks the non-core protected areas, so called buffer zones should not be larger than 25% of the area. In Domogled National Park, which he also visited, the buffer zone is bigger than 50%. Only a third of the park’s forests are under strict protection. “There are rules how forestry interventions should look like. As I am a professional, I could see what sort of interventions they did.” But “…they are not even applying their own weak rules.”

Gabriel Paun, president of the NGO Agent Green, also pointed out, that the deliberate destruction of virgin forests and Natura 2000 sites is happening with support of the Romanian government. In 14 years only 10% of the mapped virgin forests (Pin Matra study in 2004) have been put into the National Catalogue of Virgin Forests.

Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur Foundation agreed that something is going wrong in Romania: “We consider this (National Catalogue) as a great tool… But we are wondering if it´s applied in the right way. And to be frank with you, sometimes I have the feeling that it´s not used really to protect those forests legally. But it´s is rather used to exclude as much as possible from it. And I have the question why only 21,000ha are inscribed in it, so many years after adopting this ministerial order” (in 2012).

Paun also said: “We put much hope after seeing the Bialowieza case that the EU will find ways to have a strong intervention to help save what´s left of our forests, which are also a European treasure.”

Humberto Delgado Rosa / EU-Commission: “Reports are unsettling, shocking and outrageous”

His hope will be supported as Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director of Natural Capital with DG Environment of the European Commission said: “You can see my presence as the proof that we do pay attention to this.” The reports by NGOs and media about logging of Romanian forests are “definitely a reason for EU concern. We do pay attention to his… We will monitor the situation as we did in Bialowieza. And we do have some new tools to monitor it better, including satellite technology…”

He stressed that “the reports by NGOs, the images and the presented documentaries about logging in Romania are unsettling, shocking and outrageous. He also made it clear that “all old growth forests” in Europe “require a non-intervention approach”.

With Natura 2000 sites there is a need for “better implementation…But the enforcement remains a challenge.” For the EU infringement procedure “We need some data gathering and we need to have some evidence that convinces us internally in the Commission.”

Sadly, Thomas Waitz added that the Romanian MEPs were invited to the conference, but none showed up: “as you can see… there is no Romanian MEP in the room. So it seems to be either a hurtful topic for them or they don´t care…”

Romanian EU-presidency: spotlight in the case

Gabriel Schwaderer concluded: “The Romanian virgin forests are vanishing while we speak. It´s a key European matter, thus EU involvement is crucial. The Romanian EU-presidency in 2019 will also give a spotlight on this case. We call on EU institutions to help and push to save this treasure. We see clear evidence of systematic violation of nature directives and call on EU institutions to act. He informed the audience that IUCN is also looking more deeply into the situation in Romania.

 

Raising the Alarm for Romanian Forests from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

MEP Benedek Jávor opening the conference…
Humberto Delgado Rosa, MEP Thomas Waitz, Gabriel Schwaderer and Gabriel Paun at the Conference about Virgin Forests in Romania
Humberto Delgado Rosan and MEP Thomas Waitz
Interested audience at the EP Conference about Virgin Forests in Romania

 

Activists urge EU Commission to save Romania’s Virgin Forests

EuroNatur and Agent Green: EU’s biggest nature crisis in Romania requires immediate action

A giant life-sized virgin forest tree being cut down has been etched into the pavement outside the EU Commission building in Brussels. Along with several banners calling on the EU to act now to protect Romania’s virgin forests, activists from EuroNatur Foundation and Romanian NGO Agent Green have brought the issue of the logging of Romania’s ancient forests to Brussels. Huge banners have been unravelled drawing a lot of attention to the ongoing destruction of the EU’s last large tracts of virgin forests in Romania.

“This is a wake-up call about the tragic environmental crisis that is destroying Romania’s virgin forests. Their loss through logging is one of the biggest nature emergencies in the EU today. Thousands of hectares of irreplaceable forests are being destroyed or degraded every year. Most of these precious forests are in Natura 2000 sites, where they are supposed to be protected. We call on the EU Commission to take action, now!“, Gabriel Paun, president of Agent Green, said

Romania hosts the largest remains of virgin forests within the EU, with estimates between 100,000 and 200,000 hectares. These unique forests are progressively falling victim to greed, corruption and negligence of nature conservation laws. Even in national parks and Natura 2000 sites, where deterioration of the natural habitats and species should be prohibited, logging of old growth and virgin forests is omnipresent.

“If the breach of EU legislation in Romania is allowed to continue without any sanctions, the whole Natura 2000 system is weakened. Thus the EU needs to stop looking the other way and start taking action! This is why we have come to Brussels today“, Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur, said.

Romania will hold the EU-presidency in 2019, but authorities and the government do not show any ambition to implement national and EU environmental legislation properly.

Background information:
The creative and peaceful protest was part of a day of action in Brussels called “Spotlight on Vanishing Virgin Forests of Romania“. NGOs EuroNatur und Agent Green wanted to both inform the public and raise awareness with EU institutions about the logging in Romania, a drama that doesn’t get the attention it needs.

The day of action also includes these events:
– Expert conference “Europe‘s last virgin forests”, hosted by MEPs Thomas Waitz and Benedek Javor. European Parliament, Room number ASP5E1. Nov 8, 15 – 17pm. (Please note: participants need to register in advance at thomas.waitz-office@ep.europa.eu).
– Film screening “Out of Control”, a video series about scandalous logging in Romania’s national parks, with discussion. Kamilou in Mundo B (Rue d’Edimbourg, 26, 1050 Bruxelles), Nov 8, 19 – 21pm. Entry: free.

Contact information:
EuroNatur: Anja Arning, E-Mail: anja.arning(at)euronatur.org, Tel.: +49 (0)7732 – 92 72 13

Brussels / EU-Quarter / EU-Commission: Protest action by EuroNatur and Agent Green – EU must take action to save virgin forests of Romania. (c) Lode Saidane
(c) Lode Saidane

Brussels / EU-Quarter / EU-Commission: Protest action by EuroNatur and Agent Green – EU must take action to save virgin forests of Romania.