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In the shadow of coronavirus, the Slovenian government has ripped up some of the country’s hard-won environmental rights.
Last week the list of projects it plans to bulldoze through without checks was announced. These include many gas projects, road construction, large hydro power projects, and a new nuclear power plant - harming Slovenia’s rich nature, protected species, and the climate.
As the population was on lockdown to limit the spread of the pandemic, Slovenia’s government quietly suspended environmental and nature protections, by speeding up construction and development permits.
Most of Slovenia’s environmental and conservation NGOs, including Focus/Friends of the Earth Slovenia, suddenly find themselves unable to participate in environmental decision-making for such projects, and unable to challenge them in courts until the end of 2021. By then, many of the projects will be in progress.
NGOs’ rights to challenge development projects that would damage the environment were curtailed without warning or public consultation, and outside of the regular legislative procedure. The measures have no direct effect on coping with the pandemic.
This is at odds with European environmental standards and the Aarhus Convention (which assures a right to access justice on the environment).
Only large NGOs with 50 active members, 3 full-time professional employees, or at least €10,000 permanently in the bank will be allowed to defend the environment in administrative and court proceedings for new large construction projects that impact the environment. The vast majority of Slovenia’s environmental NGOs do not meet these conditions.
This includes Focus/Friends of the Earth Slovenia, which will be unable to be a Party in environmental impact assessment for damaging construction projects until the end of 2021.
Moreover, construction works will be able to begin on environmentally damaging projects as soon as a permit is issued – without the usual step of waiting to confirm legality regarding environmental and nature protection.
Slovenian NGOs have responded with a (socially distanced) protest in front of the Slovenian Parliament, and several thousand emails were sent by supporters to Members of Parliament. EU NGOs have expressed their concern. And three impacted organisations are filing a complaint to the Constitutional Court.
This is part of a pattern of threats to civil society rights and democracy in Europe in recent years, which has only accelerated with Covid-19. So far, there has been no governmental or EU response to the threat to democratic rights in Slovenia.