The decision is in violation of the two directives that prohibit economic motives as a basis for evaluations - Bulgaria is expected to face punitive sanctions due to the violation of the Birds Directive, eco-experts warn. Almost all of the Black Sea coast was omitted, as well as other sites valuable to the world's biodiversity.
The government's decision triggered protests that ended in four arrests and accusations of a police overreaction. Around 100 citizens, dressed in pyjamas and doctor's scrubs, gathered in Sofia to express their disapproval of the limited range of approved Natura 2000 sites in Bulgaria, branding themselves "the environmental crazy people", stressing that they were being declared insane for caring about the Bulgarian environment.
Police arrested four of the participants, who were released later that evening. Meanwhile, regional development minister tried to calm the situation, saying that "probably 99% of the excluded sites" would be reintroduced for Commission assessment.
At the same time, some municipalities' chiefs did not hide their plans to instigate an express procedure to change the status of the land in the excluded territories. The intention appears to be to open the way for investment-projects before October - the deadline for the finalisation of Natura 2000 in Bulgaria.
There are major projects planned for each site that would not be permitted by Natura 2000 - and a number of them are located in territories protected under national legislation. The eco-organisations saw the European network as the last chance to preserve Bulgarian biodiversity against corruption and economic interests.