Still plenty of room for improvement in the Western Balkans

There is still a long way to go for all the countries of the Western Balkans if they want to become members of the EU - especially when it comes to nature conservation. Every year, the EU Commission publishes country reports on all EU accession candidates. The latest reports are particularly critical of the construction of hydropower plants as well as of an airport construction project in Albania’s Narta Lagoon.

canalised river

A large number of hydropower plants are planned in the Balkans (here, a construction stage on the Valbona in Albania). Many of them fail to comply with EU standards.

© Theresa Schiller/EuroNatur
Runway for an airport in a protected area

In our view, the construction of Vlora Airport is illegal on several counts. Together with our partners, we are fighting against the infrastructure project.


Among the areas criticised by the EU Commission is the continued expansion of hydropower. The report states, for example, that there must be more transparency in relation to investments and their environmental impact; additional power plants may only be built if they comply with EU legal standards. In some countries of the Western Balkans, a large number of hydropower plants are currently being planned. The construction of these plants, often authorised on the back of flimsy environmental impact assessments (EIAs), would permanently destroy precious wild rivers. Specifically mentioned in the report was the planned Skavica dam in Albania which, in addition to causing massive flooding, would also destroy an important migration corridor for the endangered Balkan lynx.

Also criticised in the country report for Albania was the construction of the Vlora airport in the Narta Lagoon, close to the Vjosa estuary. The report states that the airport project is causing significant concern over its threat to the environment, migratory birds and other species. The report also points out that there is continued criticism from NGOs over the inadequate EIA and the airport’s location in a protected area.

It is expected of almost all the countries of the Western Balkans that their governments will show greater respect for freedoms of expression and assembly, especially on environmental matters, and that they will better involve the affected local populations in infrastructure projects. “The European Commission's reports reinforce our demands on the decision-makers of the countries of the Western Balkans, and emphasise that there is still an incredible amount of catching up to be done when it comes to nature conservation,” said Gabriel Schwaderer, EuroNatur Executive Director. “It is difficult to reconcile the construction of the airport in the Narta Lagoon with Albania's accession to the EU. The Albanian government’s major achievement in designating the entire length of the Vjosa and three free-flowing tributaries as a national park is thus being negated,” he added.

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