Parliament approves draft law on “Protected Areas” despite environmental concerns

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The Albanian Parliament approved legal changes proposed by the Socialist majority for “Protected Areas” in a plenary session characterized by tensions and disruptions from the opposition.

With 77 votes in favor, this amendment paves the way for the economic development of protected areas, in full harmony with the environmental and territorial protection of these areas.

The law introduces new concepts for categorizing biodiversity in the country, according to importance, as well as the possibility of updating it more frequently, and it gives local governance and communities the opportunity to be part of this decision-making process.

The law reformulates the principles of managing protected areas, adding the principle of “appropriateness”, “the principle of categorizing objectives”, and “the principle of management flexibility”, aiming to increase efficiency in the management process of these areas, based on IUCN principles. The new law also guarantees public access to protected areas.

This law grants more competencies to municipalities in the management of protected areas. It also aims to protect these areas through increased awareness, public education, promotion of research activities, encouragement of recreational activities and economic activities in line with the principle of effectiveness, as well as with the objectives of the protected area. It aims to provide opportunities for the economic development of the area’s residents, so they can have access to and benefit from them. It allows the use of land and the conduct of activities that apply sustainable development principles with a focus on the economic development of the area. It allows permissible urban, recreational, or industrial interventions within the area, while preserving its character. It encourages and supports initiatives, projects, programs, and activities aimed at improving the ecological and natural indicators of an environmental protected area, or that have a positive impact on them.

Upon approval, the European Union delegation in Tirana declared it would follow the implementation.

“Albania’s path towards joining the European Union is clear. It requires sustained efforts by the government and the parliament to ensure that Albanian legislation converges towards European standards. In the context of accession negotiations, the adoption of laws on topics covered by the EU acquis presupposes genuine and inclusive public consultation as well as a predictable and transparent process. The EU Delegation will be following very closely the implementation of the new legal provisions on protected areas, in line with the EU’s legal framework on environment protection and Albania’s international commitments”.

Prime Minister Edi Rama supported the stance of the EU, adding that the aim is to make Albania an important tourist destination.

“With the vision #Albania2030 and the unwavering will to make this country a top-tier Mediterranean tourist destination, we have made exemplary progress in biodiversity conservation in the last 10 years, and today we are the leaders in the region in terms of the quantity of protected areas as a result of their expansion during these years. Today’s legal changes strengthen the foundation of our ambitious path for sustainable development in harmony with the breathtaking beauty of Albania,” Rama wrote on X (previously known as Twitter).

Opposition deputies argue that the new draft law will turn protected areas to construction sites and pave way for the destruction of nature as well as strategic investments in these areas. The stance was expressed by Democrat MPs such as Jorida Tabaku, Ina Zhupa, or Freedom Party MP Erisa Xhixho.

Tourism Minister Mirela Kumbaro defended the decision, arguing that the draft law has been publicly consulted, through formal and informal meetings with representatives from the civil society and environmental organizations.

However, the latter argue “the proposed draft law paves the way for the destruction of National Parks and marks the end of the national network of Protected Areas”.

“This draft law threatens decades of conservation efforts and investments to protect Albania’s natural heritage,” said a statement from the Albanian Nature Protection Organization, PPNEA.

Previously, the Albanian Ornithologists’ Association, and 56 leading environmental organizations strongly opposed the draft law.

According to the organizations, “the Albanian Government has ignored the calls of the European Union to stop the voting on this law, seriously jeopardizing Albania’s integration into the European Union”.

Members of the majority party in the Parliamentary Commission for Production Activity and the Environment approved the final version of the draft law on Monday in an online meeting, disregarding the request of civil society representatives to withdraw the proposed amendments and initiate a broad consultation process.

The major concern of environmental organizations is related to the new draft law, which gives the National Territorial Council the decisive authority for activities to be carried out within “Protected Areas”.

The draft law on Protected Areas was initially presented by 12 Socialist deputies, who argued that it was the demand of several mayors that the changes be adapted to development needs.

The deputies proposed in the initial version that 20% of the territory of Protected Areas be administered by municipalities.

But the draft of the 12 deputies was rejected after the Government sent a new proposal to the Parliament with the title “opinion giving”, granting the National Territorial Regulation Council authority for development permits within Protected Areas.

Through declarations and decisions made over the years, 21.4% of the Albanian territory has been designated as “protected area”, including 12 national parks, 718 nature monuments, 23 managed nature reserves, 11 protected landscapes, 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and others. Its ecosystems and floral and faunal habitats are diverse and rich in biodiversity. It is judged that Albania cannot afford to neglect its development opportunities, by not utilizing 21.4% or nearly 1/5 of its total area with policies of prohibition or blocking, by conceptualizing protected areas as isolated islands, where the relationship and benefit of the community and tourists over them are lacking, and where institutional interaction between local government and central government is absent.

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