Tag Archives: infringement

Attempted political coup in Romanian Parliament against the EU Biodiversity Strategy

In a direct attack on EU nature protection goals, a draft decision was introduced to the Romanian Parliament by the President of Chamber of Deputies, with the aim of pushing it to a vote on the next day, November 17. Luckily, this decision has been delayed. Agent Green and Greenpeace call on Deputies to reject this unprecedented attack against nature protection.

Agent Green and Greenpeace reacted immediately and drew the attention of the parliamentarians of the Chamber of Deputies that the draft decision on the EU Biodiversity Strategy would seriously endanger national security and biodiversity and would aggravate the climate crisis. The underhanded intent of this draft decision is to block the enlargement of strictly protected areas in Romania from current coverage of only 1% to the EU goal of 10% of the country’s surface and the expansion of the European network of Natura 2000 protected natural areas from 23% to 30%. These targets are to be met gradually by 2030.

The draft decision was submitted by the President of the Chamber of Deputies. It is not known who the drivers in the background are for this unprecedented attempted political coup against nature protection. In the end, the draft decision was not voted in the Chamber of Deputies immediately as planned. However, it will be sent to the internal Commission of European Affairs in two weeks time. NGOs see this as an attempt by vested industry lobby interests to derail nature protection regimes.

For conservationists, it is completely incomprehensible that this unprecedented step has been initiated in the middle of ongoing EU infringement proceedings against the Romanian government triggered by widespread and systemic non compliance of the Romanian forest sector with EU nature protection legislation.

“Deputies cannot adopt a decision that endangers the future of nature and the life of every citizen, a life that depends on a healthy natural environment. The decision submitted to the vote today is a deeply anti-European one, it deprives Romania of key financing and endangers the economic recovery. It is unprecedented in the European Union “, warned Gabriel Păun, the president of Agent Green.

Ciprian Gal, Greenpeace Romania: “We are concerned that some in the Romanian Parliament do not understand how important biodiversity is to us. However, we hope that parliamentarians will have time to google ‘biodiversity’ before voting on one of the most shameful legislative initiatives in the history of environmental protection. In addition to a lot of information that even for children can understand, they will be able to find reports, including by the United Nations, that talk about the importance of saving natural ecosystems.“

Furthermore, the EU strategy provides for an allocation of EUR 20 billion per year for biodiversity protection from various sources, including EU funds and national and private funding. Aspects related to natural capital and biodiversity should be integrated into commercial practices.

A key element of the European biodiversity strategy is to increase the Natura 2000 network to 30% of the natural ecosystems of each Member State, including Romania. The Natura 2000 network is estimated to support 104,000 direct jobs in protected area management and conservation activities and another 70,000 indirect jobs. All this is based on annual investments of EUR 6 billion for the management and restoration of the network. In the future, biodiversity needs are expected to generate up to 500,000 jobs. Nature restoration means direct and indirect jobs, which give new life to local communities.

The draft decision fundamentally attacks the new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and the need of biodiversity protection as such and apparently lacks any understanding of the issues addressed. It states that there is a need to conduct scientific analyses, based on long term experiments and monitoring, to demonstrate in detail, that biodiversity of natural and anthropic ecosystems really contribute at the resilience of the communities.

In May 2020, when the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 was published, the European Commission announced that “it is time to reconcile with nature. Nature restoration is a central element of the EU’s recovery plan from the coronavirus pandemic, providing immediate business and investment opportunities to revive the European economy. Climate change, biodiversity loss and the spread of devastating pandemics are proof that this is necessary.”

Rich, intact biodiversity is essential for functioning of ecosystems and their services for humans – such as water storage, food provision, soil protection, slope stabilisation, oxygen production and local climate regulation.

The world is facing an escalating biodiversity crisis, as the UN Biodiversity Council revealed in 2019. Wildlife population has declined by 60% in the last 40 years.
1 billion species are at risk of extinction. The decline of biodiversity and the climate crisis are interdependent. Restoring forests, soils and wetlands and creating green spaces in cities are key to mitigating the effects of climate change by 2030.

“This proposed decision utterly undermines science and humanity’s common understanding of the critical importance nature plays in sustaining life on earth. It must be rejected”, Mr Păun says.

 

Cemetery of majestic centuries-old trees: giant chipboard factory of an Austrian company in Romania. Large companies’ hunger for timber is fueling excessive legal and illegal logging of high biodiversity value forests all across the country. Thus, the new EU nature protection goals are apparantly seen by the networks in the forest industry as a threat to their “business”. The latest attack on the EU protection goals in the Romanian Chamber of Deputies is likely to be seen as a crude statement by parts of the industry against law enforcement and improved protection goals.
Brutally built road in Fagaras Natura 2000 site, financed with EU funds. Ruthless cutting down of old forests in protected areas as a boundless El Dorado for greedy individuals, supported by the Chamber of Deputies in the Romanian Parliament?

Tackle illegal logging or face court, Commission warns Romanian Government

The European Commission has demanded today that Romanian authorities take immediate action to stop illegal logging of old-growth and primary forests in Romania’s protected Natura 2000 areas.

In the latest step in infringement proceedings against Romania, the European Commission issued a reasoned opinion over Romanian authorities’ systemic and continuous failure to protect one of Europe’s most precious forests.

A reasoned opinion is a last call for the Romanian Government to address the problem. If the country’s authorities fail to act, the Commission will take a case before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – the EU’s highest court.

The Commission’s intervention follows a series of complaints submitted by Environmental organisations EuroNatur, Agent Green and ClientEarth, which led the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Romanian authorities earlier this year.

ClientEarth wildlife and habitats lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “The Commission’s opinion clearly shows that the Romanian Government is breaking EU law and demands specific measures are taken by the authorities to improve the situation.

“If this persistent failure to act continues, there is a high risk the country will appear before the EU’s highest court. The importance of these forests cannot be underestimated – and the European Commission’s opinion reflects how serious the situation is.”

Romania hosts two-thirds of Europe’s remaining primary and old-growth forests found in the temperate climate zone. These precious ecosystems, protected by European law as Natura 2000 sites, are being systematically destroyed by large-scale logging operations, unrebuked by the Romanian authorities.

Gabriel Paun of Agent Green said: “We are not surprised that the infringement is going to the next level. The illegal logging and destruction of Natura 2000 sites continues with the consent of the environmental ministry. If fines are imposed on Romania for breaking EU law, taxpayers’ money will be used to pay it – this is unfair and continued failure to act would represent a deeply irresponsible move by the state.”

Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur, concluded: “The Commission clearly recognises the need to urgently protect Romania’s natural forests. We hope that the Commission will continue to act quickly by referring the Romanian Government to the CJEU so that the ongoing destruction of its country’s forests can be stopped.”

The Commission also opened another infringement procedure against Romania, calling on its authorities to respect their obligations to protect and manage their Natura 2000 sites under the Habitats Directive by designating explicit “Special Areas of Conservation”.

Recent illegal destruction of the pristine wilderness in Sambata valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site.

Illegal road detected in one of Europe’s wildest mountain valleys in Romania

Illegal road cut into the pristine Sâmbăta Valley in Romania’s Făgăraș Montains Natura 2000 site

A few weeks ago, the Sâmbăta Valley (Sibiu province) was still a true paradise: the valley was not spoiled by any road and hosts vast old growth forests, remote mountain ridges, rare wild animals (including wolves, bears and otters) and a romantic hiking trail that passes under large, mossy, ancient trees. But a few weeks ago, this sanctuary has been despoiled: a local forest owner bulldozed a road along the once pristine river, destroying the banks and slopes covered with wild and biodiversity-rich ravine and mountain forests.

But this is just the beginning. Logging machinery are soon expected to invade the valley, now that they have access to the large old trees that have been growing here for centuries. And the fairytale forest, which is reminiscent of film scenes from “Lord of the Rings” could soon be ravaged. Tragically, Sâmbăta is not the only wild valley in Romania that has suffered from illegal logging during the COVID-19 lock down.

Local environmentalists discovered the new road and called for immediate inspection by officials from the Forest Guard authorities in Brasov. The response caused great concern and shock: no permits are required because an old road already existed that “was only being repaired”. This outrageous claim clearly contradicts the facts: pictures from previous years show that no road actually existed and that the valley was an untouched wilderness, hosting old-growth forest of sycamore, beech and spruce. Forest maps also confirm that the valley was not accessible by a road.

Questions of serious mismanagement are raised.

Why are forest guard officials defending this unauthorized road and why are they covering for the unknown beneficiary who drove this illegal project forward?

How could this happen during the very time when the EU Commission has initiated infringement proceedings against the Romanian state for deliberate, systemic and widespread violations of EU legislation by systemic logging and destruction of natural ecosystems in Natura 2000 sites?

Natura 2000 requires mandatory environmental assessments to be carried out prior to intervention in protected areas in order to exclude the risk of a deterioration of the ecological conservation status of listed habitats and species.

The facts, known to date, are:

  • The new dirt road stretches for about 1.5 km, is 3-4 m wide and was built between March and May 2020.
  • The road is in a Natura 2000 site
  • The road does not have a valid building permit
  • No adequate environmental assessment has taken place
  • No agreement or approval has been given by the Natura 2000 site custodian for works in protected habitats
  • The road has not been approved by the Romanian Forest Guard for cutting in areas mapped as “virgin forests” by the “Pin Matra study”
  • The road has not been approved by the Ministry of Environment for forest works in areas officially proposed for inclusion studies in the protection system of the “National Catalog of Virgin and Quasi-virgin forests”.

This is a long list of evidence showing clear violations of laws, rules and regulations that were supposed to ensure the permanent protection of such precious forests.

The work was carried out without an information panel, under the pretext of “rehabilitating a dirt road” that never existed on the left bank of the Sâmbăta river in a formerly roadless, wild valley. Only the touristic path that leads to mountain refuge Cabana Sâmbăta and which is located on the right bank of the river Sâmbăta appears on the forest maps.

The valley harbors large tracks of old growth forests with high biodiversity and scientific values (researched by the REMOTE Primary Forests project).

According to the NGO Agent Green, this is the list of potential illegalities:

  1. Unauthorised construction of a dirt road without proper building permit
  2. Unauthorised construction of a road without a proper environmental assessment
  3. Unauthorised construction of a road without consent of the Custodian of a Natura 2000 site
  4. Illegal change of land use category, from forest to road
  5. Disturbing the national forest fund and protected species by carrying out the illegal construction of the road
  6. Unauthorised construction of a road in forest stands identified by the “Pin Matra” study as virgin forests
  7. Unauthorised road construction damaging Natura 2000 protected habitats and species, ignoring the legal obligation of carrying out a (nature impact) appropriate assessment prior to any intervention
  8. Unauthorised road construction through the Sâmbăta riverbed and other tributary watercourses
  9. Destruction of the soil and dislocation of rocks on the edge of watercourses and in the forest
  10. Abandonment of felled trees in streams
  11. Unauthorised logging of trees in Natura 2000 priority habitats, in Pin Matra polygons and in potentially virgin forests included in the official list of the Ministry of Environment
  12. Damaging the status of protected species and habitats

In the context of the EU infringement procedure against Romania for forest exploitation in protected habitats without adequate appropriate assessment, it is very worrying that the new road was even built through potential “priority habitats” which are under strict protection in the whole of the EU – in particular:

91E0 * – Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior – Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae

9180 * – Tilio-Acerion forests on steep slopes, rubble and ravines

Furthermore, the illegal road was built directly through the habitats of several protected species for which the Natura 2000 site was designated, such as the wolf and the otter, and the fact that the road affected the course of the river Sambata and will have had a negative impact on fish species found in this river, such as Cottus gobio.

Agent Green will file complaints against this illegal road, stating that the  Environmental Guard, Romanian Waters and the National Agency for Protected Natural Areas have a direct responsibility to investigate and prosecute these clear violations of the law and to force those who built the road to restore the affected area to its original state.

This scandalous contemporary example of clear contempt for nature and the law underscores the urgent need for EU intervention, as Romanian authorities are not able, and seemingly unwilling to fight such environmental crimes.

Here is a video by Agent Green showing the extent of the destruction:

 

Pristine Sâmbăta valley in 2016.
The same location in Sâmbăta valley in 2020: the rich biodiversity at the river banks has been devastated.
Untouched fairy tale forest in Sambata valley – Fagaras Natura 2000 site.
Forest maps do not show the existence of any road.
The beginnig of the new road, which is obviously not built on the hiking trail.
The road gives easy access to the old growth. Logging machinery will soon follow. Thus, the road has to be rehabilitated and the natural values completely restored.