Europe and Central Asia
11 May 2020

Exposed: Slovenian government exploits pandemic to shatter environmental safeguards

The non-governmental organization Leeway collective, led by rower Rok Rozman, recently launched a new campaign against the large hydroelectric power plants Rek ne damo. ©Uroš Hočevar
By BirdLife Europe and Central Asia

It is no secret that the Covid-19 crisis has mutated from a health issue to a full-blown economic and societal crisis. The whole world is affected, and states in both hemispheres are attempting different measures to try to save their economies. In Slovenia, on 30th April, the government announced a new “anti-Corona law”, to protect the health of their citizens and “revive the economy - especially the building sector”. So far so good, right? Except there was a catch: the government snuck in measures to completely undermine the country’s environmental safeguards.

 

In effect, the government’s “anti-Corona law” became an “anti-nature law”: they went so far as to exclude environmental NGOs from participating in formal Environmental Impact Assessments. That’s not “helping” the building sector. It’s giving a free pass to dangerous, highly unsustainable construction, casually brushing away expert scientific advice and the voice of civil society and giving space for nontransparent and corruptive practices.

 

It doesn’t stop there: now, for some large construction projects such as windfarms or powerlines or investments in agricultural intensification, Environmental Impact Assessments are not even required at all. And many of the EIAs that are currently running can simply be cancelled. On top of that, deadlines to file lawsuits at the administrative court – an essential legal tool against environmental crimes – have been cut back from 30 to 15 days.

 

This new law is so outlandish, it has been sent to Slovenia’s Constitutional court for review. Parts of it may be in direct violation of both the Slovene Constitution and the Aarhus convention.

 

Perhaps the Slovenian government thought that this attack on its country’s environmental protections and constitution would go unnoticed. But thanks to the work of Slovenian civil society, including BirdLife partner DOPPS, these issues have been brought to the public eye and exposed in national media.

 

“For the first time since we entered the EU in 2004, Slovenia is experiencing a dramatic encroachment of democratic rights in the field of nature conservation.

The legal tools that we have used in the past for fighting against illegal and corrupt activities, detrimental for nature, have been taken away from us.

We are back in those grey autocratic times where the public had to be quiet” commented Damijan Denac, the director of DOPPS, BirdLife’s partner in Slovenia.

 

This happened in Slovenia, but unfortunately, it reflects a wider, global trend to exploit the pandemic to break down environmental safeguards. The Covid19 crisis brutally highlights the need to follow science. With the biodiversity and climate crises thrashing the planet, we should be protecting nature - not the opposite.

 

Minister of the Environment Andrej Vizjak ©️ Borut Krajnc

Minister of the Environment Andrej Vizjak ©️ Borut Krajnc
Ariel Brunner, BirdLife Europe’s Senior Head of Policy said, “One would hope the pandemic would teach us the importance of science, good governance, transparency and healthy ecosystems. Instead, too many people in power are exploiting the Coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to undermine democracy and environmental protection in order to make quick profits for their cronies.“

 

Our planet’s future is in our hands. Together, we can and must resist attacks from profiteers against science and nature.

 

This happened in Slovenia, but unfortunately, it reflects a wider, global trend to exploit the pandemic to break down environmental safeguards. The Covid19 crisis brutally highlights the need to follow science. With the biodiversity and climate crises thrashing the planet, we should be protecting nature - not the opposite.

 



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