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EUROPE-DEVELOPMENT: Mapping Out the EU’s Harmful Projects

BRUSSELS, Feb 5 2012 (IPS) - Dozens of European Union-funded projects across several countries are ‘environmentally or socially unsound’, according to a map created by a joint effort between CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth Europe.

Released Feb. 2, the map counted 33 ventures backed by the EU’s cohesion policy funds – either projects already funded or under consideration for funding – totalling 16 billion euros.

The map highlighted projects in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland and Slovakia, which have been found to be particularly damaging to local biodiversity, to the future possibility of sustainable efforts and to human communities.

Twelve of the 33 projects studied were found in the Czech Republic, the highest number of harmful projects in any country.

These included plans for an incinerator in the East, where air pollution levels are already among the highest in Europe, which would “undermine EU targets for a 50 percent recycling ratio,” as well as undercut efforts to reduce municipal waste as a whole.

Other projects, including several expressways, would infringe on Natura 2000 sites – areas across Europe that have been deemed by the EU to be ‘valuable’ by virtue of their wildlife and protected species’ habitats.

Some EU ventures are listed as being categorically vague in terms of effectiveness, such as the construction of a 32-kilometre stretch of motorway between Demir Kapija and Smokvica, which would cut through an unspoiled forested area and be placed beside the protected Demir Kapija gorge.

The gorge is one of the “richest ornithological reserves in Europe, and the project would damage many (bird) habitats and ecological corridors,” according to the report.

EU funding for this project currently totals 258 million euros.

The map warns, “In an era of scarce public resources, every cent of EU taxpayer money must contribute to the shift of Europe’s regions towards the right track of sustainability.”

Local reactions

Representatives from projects underway in Estonia and Bulgaria attended the launch of the map in order to bring local and personal perspectives of the impacts of two particular projects under the watchdogs’ microscope.

Peep Mardiste, a policy expert from the Estonian Green Movement, drew attention to Saaremaa Island, where a seven-kilometre bridge is under consideration for EU funding. He called the bridge a “luxury project” that was neither economically nor environmentally sound.

Home to a population of 40,000 people, Saaremaa also plays host to scores of tourists, who are ferried to the island on an hourly basis. Mardiste argued that instead of building a bridge that would tear through a Natura 2000 site, a more frequent ferry would be a better option.

He said that the project represented governments’ lost sense of “reality.”

Genady Kondarev, a clean energy campaigner from Bulgaria, shared a story of waste management in his home country.

The Sofia Waste Management project calls for the “construction of a landfill, small compost facilities and a mechanical-biological plant that will produce refuse-derived fuel for burning in distant cement kilns,” according to the report.

The problem with such a venture is that it locks Bulgaria into a waste management system that is systematically below recycling percentage goals for Europe. Kondarev called it a “hungry monster” that would need to be fed for years—decades, even—in order to pay out on the initial investment to build the facility, meaning that Bulgaria would lose the opportunity to invest in more sustainable methods of waste management in the meantime.

Room for improvement?

This year’s map is the fourth of its kind to be released by the watchdog team, following a similar undertaking in 2009.

Markus Trilling, EU funds campaign coordinator for CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth Europe, said that the projects included on this map are just a portion of those that may be harmful in an environmental or social way.

Criteria for being present on the map included projects that specifically breached environmental legislation, damaged Natura 2000 sites, and displaced local people.

“The map exists to (provide) room for improvement,” said Xavier Sol, EU funds assistant for CEE Bankwatch Network, as well as to illustrate how the cohesion policy can be used in a harmful way. With the EU’s seven-year budget plans looming over 2012, the map follows a report released in October 2011 by the two monitors, outlining recommendations for ways to best utilise the cohesion policy.

The report, “Funding Europe’s Future“, outlines goals to “shift Europe’s regions on to a sustainable development path – Structural and Cohesion Funds have a vital role to play in tackling climate change, stopping biodiversity loss and reversing the trend of resource- overconsumption.”

The report includes a call for the European Commission to be transparent in its budget and include the public in decision-making and the disbursement of funds via projects and programming.

“These (harmful) projects are mistakes Europe cannot afford to make,” Trilling said. “Courageous action is needed to overturn the legacy of bad planning and realise the beneficial potential of EU funds.”

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