The European Court of Justice has ruled against Bulgaria in a case brought by the European Commission against the country over its failure to protect unique habitats and important species in the Kaliakra special protection area at the Black Sea coast, the court announced on January 14 2016.
The European Commission lodged the court action in October 2013, saying that large numbers of wind turbines and other developments have been authorised without adequate assessments of their environmental effects in the Kaliakra region, a migratory route and resting place for highly endangered species.
“Although Bulgaria is committed to increasing the protection of rare species and habitats in the region, the reverse appears to be happening,” the Commission said in a statement at the time.
The European Court of Justice, announcing its findings, said that by failing to include all the territories of the important bird areas in the special protection area covering the Kaliakra region, the Republic of Bulgaria had failed to classify as special protection areas the most suitable territories in number and size for the conservation, first, of the biological species listed in Annex I to Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds and, secondly, of the migratory species not listed in that annex but regularly occurring in the geographical sea and land area where that directive applies, with the result that Bulgaria had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 4(1) and (2) of that directive.
The court said that by approving the implementation of the projects ‘AES Geo Energy’, ‘Disib’ and ‘Longman Investment’ in the territory of the important bird area covering the Kaliakra region which was not classified as a special protection area, although it should have been, Bulgaria had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 4(4) of Directive 2009/147.
By approving the implementation of the projects ‘Kaliakra Wind Power’, ‘EVN Enertrag Kavarna’ and ‘Vertikal – Petkov & Cie’, and of the ‘Thracian Cliffs Golf & Spa Resort’, in the territory of the special protection areas covering the regions of Kaliakra and Belite Skali respectively, the Bulgaria had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 6(2) of Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.
By failing, first, to assess properly the cumulative effect of the projects ‘Windtech’, ‘Brestiom’, ‘Eco Energy’ and ‘Longman Investment’ in the territory of the important bird area covering the Kaliakra region which was not classified as a special protection area, although it should have been, and, secondly, by none the less authorising the implementation of the ‘Longman Investment’ project, Bulgaria had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 4(2) and (3) of Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment and point 1(b) of Annex III to that directive, and under Article 2(1) of that directive, respectively, the court said.
The European Commission, in its October 2013 statement, said that under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, any project that may have a significant negative effect on sites that are part of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas should undergo a prior assessment before it is approved. In parallel, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive aims to ensure that any project likely to have a significant effect on the environment is adequately assessed before being approved.
Bulgaria had authorised a high number of economic activities in the area without appropriate environmental impact assessment, the Commission said.
“Thousands of wind turbines and some 500 other projects have been authorised without adequate assessments of their effect on Kaliakra’s unique habitats and species, and on the thousands of birds and bats that fly over the site each year on their way to and from Africa. Up to 100 per cent of the global population of the world’s most endangered goose species – the red breasted goose – spends the winter in a small number of sites in and around Kaliakra. No account is being taken of the cumulative effect of the authorised projects, which is also a requirement under the Birds, Habitats and Environmental Impact Assessment Directives.”
A reasoned opinion on the matter was sent by the European Commission to Bulgaria in June 2012.
“While Bulgaria has taken significant legislative and administrative steps over the last year to restrict the damage and prevent further developments that could affect the area, rare and unique priority habitats and species have been affected by a large number of wind turbines and other developments, either without environmental impact assessments, or with inadequate assessments,” the Commission said.
In its January 14 ruling, the European Court of Justice ordered Bulgaria to pay costs.
Quoted on the website of BirdLife International, Wouter Langhout, BirdLife Europe’s EU Nature Policy Officer, said: “With this judgment, the European Court of Justice sends a strong message to Bulgaria.
“Natura 2000 sites shouldn’t be bulldozed and turned into golf courses, and windfarms can’t threaten major migration routes of birds. Member states need to stop allowing such sites to be destroyed and develop renewable energy in a way which protects nature.”
The same website quoted Stoycho Stoychev, Conservation Director of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, as saying: “The judgment of the European Court of Justice reminds us that the Law should be respected and fully implemented.
“This judgment creates a loud and clear need for the Bulgarian government to take immediate action to remove impacts on the damaged Natura 2000 sites. It is also important that Natura 2000 sites all over the country are properly protected and the Government should ensure that it does not allow damaging projects in Natura 2000 areas, but instead encourages sustainable development that is profitable both for nature and people,” Stoychev said.
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