The Slovenia Times

Environmental protection act to limit involvement of NGOs


The changes were first drawn up to transpose EU legislation, but received an amendment filed by opposition National Party (SNS) to the approval of Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak who argued too many NGOs had been granted the right to act in the public interest, with many launching administrative and court proceedings only to undermine key development projects.

Modelled on government-sponsored restrictions for NGOs in environmental permit procedures written into construction legislation, which parliament will vote on on Friday as part of the third economic stimulus package, the initial amendment would have eliminated the bulk of environmental NGOs from administrative and court proceedings.

Triggering several protests, it was softened somewhat at committee level upon a proposal by the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) and again at Tuesday's plenary with another amendment filed by the coalition.

Minister Vizjak, who is being accused by environmentalists of trying to eliminate opposition to the Mokrice hydro power station project that he was in charge of until recently, defended the stricter conditions, arguing "all the standards prescribed by the Aarhus Convention are definitely being respected in Slovenia".

In line with the new conditions, public interest status will be recognised only for groups with at least 50 members, at least EUR 10,000 of assets, at least two fully employed persons who have tertiary education level degrees and two years of experience in environmental protection.

Also allowed to apply will be groups that have special nature management licences agreed with the state and organisations providing protection, rescue aid and aid services.

The opposition remained reserved about the changes, in particular the Left, which labelled the corrections to the original amendment 'cosmetics', while the coalition presented them as a reasonable compromise.

Jo┼żef Horvat of New Slovenia (NSi) for instance argued that while the original new restrictions had indeed been heavy, the ones adopted "give clout to serious organisations that can put in a constructive effort and show they are working well and are truly worried about nature".

Environmentalists and NGOs however remained discontent, with the head of the Centre of NGOs, Goran Forbici, arguing that the mitigated changes would not apply for legislation to be in force for major infrastructure projects on the basis of the construction act.

While the parliamentary debate on the proposed third stimulus package was suspended on Tuesday, amendments filed by opposition parties have been rejected and the changes to the construction act continue to include provisions that deregulate environmental permit procedures and impose heavy restrictions on NGOs.


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