From: Alice Taylor
EU Delegation in Tirana Supports Enforcement of Court Decision Suspending HPPs in Valbona

Following the enforcement of a High Court decision to suspend the operations of two hydropower plants in Valbona, the EU delegation in Tirana has spoken in favour of the need to respect environmental standards and to ensure the consolidation of the rule of law and fundamental rights in the country.

Four months after the country’s highest courts handed down the ruling against Genr2/Dragobia Energy, a bailiff from Kukes in the country’s north finally executed the decision. This move came after Tropoje bailiff Eduart Mrishaj allegedly refused to do so. This left the plaintiff, NGO TOKA, struggling to find an official to enforce the order, meaning the HPPs continued operating.

On Monday (9 November), the bailiff visited both sites and confirmed that they were not operating. Should the company continue operating them, they face criminal prosecution. The suspension order remains in place until the Administrative Court has concluded whether their construction is legal.

Answering questions from Exit, the delegation said they are aware of the developments and are following the situation. The spokesperson added that  “the EU attaches great importance to sustainable development as well as to the respect of the rule of law and fundamental rights, including the right to a fair trial and right to prompt implementation of binding judicial decisions.”

The Valbona River: A Rural Albanian Community’s Struggle for Survival in the Face of Hydropower Plant Construction

They continued that Albania has committed to aligning its legislation with the EU environmental acquis, including that relating to ecological assessments for plans and projects, including water management and nature protection.

“The EU has frequently raised the need to respect environmental standards”, and the 2021 Annual Report on Albania published in October, states “investments in hydropower should strictly comply with national and international environmental, nature protection and water management obligations, involve proper public participation and consultations, and be subject of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports that include high-quality assessments of the cumulative impacts on nature and biodiversity”.

The spokesperson concluded that the EU would continue to monitor the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights as part of the EU’s accession process with Albania.

The suspension of works comes after a protracted legal fight between residents and Gern2, a company linked to a large local TV station A2 Media and has been awarded many construction and development permits.

Residents claim the construction is illegal as it will impact part of the Valbona National Park. They also claim residents were threatened into agreeing with the project and that the companies used the names of dead people and others without permission on documents, allegedly showing support for the HPPs.

Valbona is an area in the north of Albania and is one of Europe’s poorest regions. It relies heavily on tourism that is centred around the river, as well as local touristic sites. If the power plants go ahead, they argue tourism will be destroyed, many will be unable to sustain agriculture, and several historical sites will be submerged.

The company claimed they are restoring biodiversity to the region, but photos sent throughout the year and an on-site visit by Exit confirmed that efforts were significantly wanting.

TOKA has said it will continue to fight the operation of the HPPs through all legal means necessary.