Various NGOs have sent complaints to the European Commission about violations of the obligations undertaken by Bulgaria under the EU’s 'Natura 2000' directives since its accession to the Union in 2007, EurActiv has learned. A significant number of petitions have also been sent to the European Parliament.
Environmentalists say they are very worried about the situation in Bulgaria and warn that if the EU fails to address the problems, the same developments could take place in Romania or future EU member states, such as Serbia or Macedonia.
The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), for its part, has sent a well-documented petition reporting sixteen cases of Natura 2000 'vandalism' in Bulgaria.
Summarising these cases, as frequently reported in the press, it appears that entrepreneurs are disregarding obligations undertaken by the country to protect Natura 2000 sites by building summer villages, hotels, golf courses and ski runs, extracting sand, gravel and stones, developing wind farms in locations visited by migratory birds, developing micro-hydropower plants in protected areas and heavily exploiting the country's forests for wood production.
In one area, the Black Sea cape of Kaliakra – a bottleneck for thousands of migratory bids travelling from Europe to the Middle East via the so-called Via Pontica – the authorities have reduced the size of the protected area under Natura 2000 in order to develop wind farms and mass tourism.
In Rila park, the only Alpine mountain in the Balkan peninsula, destruction of the protected area is well underway with the construction of eight large ski resorts in non-approved Natura 2000 sites, BSPB warns.
In Pirin national park, another mountainous area, the Bansko ski resort has been expanded beyond the scope of permission granted, environmentalists warn. Unprecedented floods recently occurred in Bansko: largely as a result of deforestation, according to experts.
Another unique spot on the Bulgarian coast, the site of Irakli, is under threat due to the construction of a summer village. It is to be financed by Vessela Kyuleva, the widow of a controversial businessman murdered in broad daylight in Sofia in 2005, and Petar Dikov, the chief architect of Sofia – as Dnevnik, EurActiv's partner in Bulgaria, reports today.
The Rhodope mountains to the south-eastern of the country and Lomovete, a northern area of natural habitat close to the Danube river, are also under threat, including from open mining industry projects.
Irina Mateeva, EU policy officer with BSPB, told EurActiv that in the months since their report about the sixteen cases of vandalism was published, little has happened. She said the economic crisis had had an impact, but also blamed the embassies and governments of older EU member states for lobbying in favour of projects that are detrimental to habitats in her country.
For example, she said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had lobbied heavily in favour of EVN, one of the companies that tried to develop wind farms in Kaliakra. Following pressure from the European Parliament, this pressure has now stopped, Mateeva added.
But in other areas, such as the protected area of Kamchia – a river that drains into the Black Sea – the same developments are still taking place, she stated. A huge hotel complex is to be built there, largely as a result of pressure from Austria's Raiffeisenbank and the complicity of the Bulgarian Environment Ministry, which she said had turned a blind eye to the fact that no environmental impact assessment was carried out for the project.
Mateeva also deplored the European Commission's silence over the "vandalism" of Bulgaria's natural habitats.
As Dnevnik recently wrote, one of the reasons for Bulgaria's failure to preserve its habitats is the absence of a green political party capable of making it to parliament and having an impact on the country's policies. Some of the existing environmentalist movements are under the influence of big business and end up lobbying for the development of nuclear energy, the daily wrote.
The Bulgarian press also frequently attacks former Prime Minister Simeon Saxe Coburg Gotha – who was also an infant king of his country at the time of World War Two – for heavily exploiting for wood production vast swathes of forest obtained since his return to the country in 2001.