Croatia’s accession to the EU: time to halt Danube’s destruction

Posted on 08 December 2011    
Confluence of the Danube and Drava Rivers. The commitment to protect this area would not be worth more than the paper it is written on if current plans are executed.
Confluence of the Danube and Drava Rivers.
© Mario Romulic
EU Commission to closely monitor Croatia’s channelling plans of 500 km of natural rivers in protected areas

Brussels/ Zagreb - On the eve of putting its signature under the EU Accession treaty tomorrow WWF warns that Croatia’s river channelling plans are already breaching EU environmental law and jeopardizing its unique nature along all the Danube and other major national rivers.

More than 500 kilometres of natural river stretches along the Danube, Drava, Mura, Sava and Neretva rivers are projected to be channelled – a severe threat to unique wetlands and Europe’s largest and best preserved floodplain forests. WWF believes that Croatia’s accession to the EU now obliges the country to comply, without delay, with the community’s environmental law and immediately prevent this destruction.

Arno Mohl, WWF International Freshwater Expert says:

“Croatia should bid farewell to the outdated practice of transforming living rivers to canals, and rather adopt and strictly adhere to EU standards of river management. At a recent meeting in Brussels, high-ranking representatives of the EU-Commission confirmed to our delegation that they will closely evaluate Croatia’s performance in this field.”

“WWF and other conservation organisations are regularly reporting the proceedings to the European Commission, showing that current regulation plans are outdated, destructive of the environment and against EU water and nature conservation law.”

Many of those regulation projects have already been approved, except for the Danube. The regulation of 53 kilometres of the Danube’s border with Serbia is currently the largest water infrastructure project under environmental impact assessment. In October 2011 an inter-ministerial commission began to evaluate the project and its impacts on the environment. A decision on the project is due within two to four months. In a resolution from February 2011, the European Parliament demanded for the Danube “to respect the landscape context, which is unique in Europe”, and “to apply EU rules on development authorisation from the outset”.

Prof. Dr. Emil Dister, a renowned European expert of floodplain and river ecology from Karlsruhe University in Germany, warns:

“Channelling the Danube would massively affect most valuable areas like the world famous Kopacki Rit, causing the deepening of the riverbed, disconnecting natural wetland areas from the river and drying out the unique wetland areas, in particular floodplain forests. No contemporary river management in Europe would tolerate or even promote the destruction of such intact river landscapes. In Germany hundreds of millions of Euro are being spent to restore river environments, the best-proven precautionary measure against flooding”.

The EU Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, advocates the initiative for conserving the Danube, Drava, Mura area as a Transboundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, shared between Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia, because it “perfectly fits into the biodiversity objectives of the EU and the Habitats and Birds Directive”.

Croatia has just nominated (in September 2011) the Nature Park Kopacki Rit as part of the core zone of the future reserve, the so-called “Amazon of Europe”. It is precisely this area that would be severely damaged by Danube regulation.

WWF believes that Croatia's new government cannot avoid recognising the importance of its Amazon area and all other major natural rivers and asks them to finally stop the current destruction plans and protect their natural treasures without any compromises.

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