The Bern Convention's recommendation could not be clearer: the construction of Vlora International Airport in Albania should be suspended until an environmental impact assessment has been carried out. In doing so, the members of the Bern Convention, one of the most important nature conservation agreements in Europe, are siding with the nature conservation organisations EuroNatur, PPNEA and AOS, which have been fighting the large-scale project near the Narta lagoon in the delta of the wild river Vjosa for years, including with court actions.
"This clear positioning of the states in the Bern Convention - including the EU - gives us a tailwind," says Annette Spangenberg, Head of Nature Conservation at EuroNatur. "Albania has also signed this European convention on nature conservation - if the government does not adhere to it, it does not reflect well on Albania. The Bern Convention recommendation will certainly find its way into Albania's accession negotiations to the European Union."
Already at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention last year the airport was a topic, now the recommendation was finally decided and Albania was informed about it. The European Parliament and the European Commission have also strongly criticized the construction of the airport and called on the Albanian government to stop this project, which is harmful to nature.
"With the construction of an airport along an important bird migration route and in an internationally recognized protected area, the Albanian government is not only destroying the nature of its own country, but also the natural heritage of the entire European continent," says Aleksandër Trajçe, Executive Director of PPNEA. In a recent declaration, signed by numerous nature conservation organisations, Albanian civil society has again clearly positioned itself against the airport.
The Vjosa-Narta Protected Area is one of the most important ecosystems in Albania, the second most important wetland in Albania and home to rare animal and plant species. The area is a habitat for more than 220 bird species throughout the year and has a supra-regional importance for the Adriatic migration route. The Vjosa was proclaimed the first Wild River National Park in Europe in March 2023 and was placed under protection by the Albanian government.
Last year, PPNEA and AOS, with the support of EuroNatur, filed a complaint with the Albanian Administrative Court against the construction of the airport in the protected area of the Narta Lagoon. With the continuation of the construction works, the Albanian authorities violate national laws and international conventions.
Vlora Airport is to become Albania's second international airport. Construction began as early as November 2021 - but without a building permit, let alone a sufficient environmental impact assessment. National and international non-governmental organizations have opposed the plans from the start. This week, 33 organizations from the Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands sent an open letter to Prime Minister Edi Rama, the EU Commission and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) calling for a halt to the airport construction.