Bulgaria and Romania improve environmental safeguards despite economic crisis



Posted on 06 February 2013  | 
This opinion piece was first published in WWF's Crisis Watch bulletin. Crisis Watch monitors the effect of the economic crisis on the environment. Andreas Beckmann is the Director of WWF's Danube-Carpathian Programme. 

Environmental legislation and safeguards are being rolled back in Spain, Greece and other countries, under the pressure, or excuse, of financial and economic crisis. One might think that the same would be happening in the EU’s newest and poorest member states, Bulgaria and Romania.

But in fact, the application of environmental safeguards and legislation has actually improved over the past couple of years and has been more in the focus of attention of the public and politicians.

Within the space of little over a month at the end of 2011, over 100,000 Romanians signed their names to a petition that pushed the Romanian government to bring the country’s remaining virgin forests under protection. Last summer, thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets in a series of demonstrations that eventually pushed the Prime Minister to retract legislation that would have opened the country’s protected forests to development.

Such victories are having a larger impact. In the past year, politicians have begun consulting leaders from the environmental movement – something unheard of until recently. And a new generation of Bulgarians and Romanians is growing up actively demanding more open, fair and democratic societies. What mobilized people to go onto the streets and the internet was not just their concern for natural treasures, but especially their anger and disgust over corruption and the abuse of power.

For too long, well-connected individuals have been helping themselves to the country’s natural treasures with impunity. Enough is enough. The tens of thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians who have mobilised to protect their forests have underlined how popular anger over injustices regarding the use of natural resources can be a potent force FOR environmental action.
Andreas Beckmann, Director WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme
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