December 4, 2023, Strasbourg

On December 1, the 43rd Standing Committee of the Bern Convention in Strasbourg reaffirmed for yet another year its decision to Bulgaria that no construction should be started in the Kresna Gorge until the 2021 Recommendations and the European Birds and Habitats Directives are complied with. 

“The committee was adamant that the Bulgarian government should present all alternatives to the Struma motorway and revise the 2017 environmental assessment in accordance with European environmental legislation before its construction, as stated in the decision,” said Daniel Popov of the Environmental Association “For the Earth” – Friends of the Earth Bulgaria and CEE Bankwatch Network. [1]

протест пред МОСВ, август 2005
Photo from a protest in front of the Ministry of Environment and Water – August 2005.

The Committee has been monitoring the Kresna gorge case in Bulgaria since 2002, which is threatened to be destroyed by the EU-funded Struma motorway, part of the European Transport corridor IV. Construction works started in May 2023 with a roundabout south of the gorge, the government initially claiming that it does not predetermine the route, however, continuing to complete the alternative through the gorge. 

The majority of the delegates in Strasbourg highlighted the lack of substantial progress in resolving the case and the fact that there is no new Environmental Assessment (EIA), as agreed last year. The heated debate ended with a vote with 17 Member States for opening the case file, and 12  – to keep the case as a possible file with increased monitoring by the Convention Bureau and Committee. 

In this vote, for the second year in a row, it is clear that support for the Bulgarian government comes from countries that systematically violate environmental legislation and that have files at the Bern Convention Standing Committee and the European Court. [2]

Despite the higher number of countries voting for opening the case file, it remained possible due to the lack of a 2/3 majority, which is the rule. 

NGO complainants remind that already in 2022, the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention asked the Bulgarian government to revise the Environmental Impact Assessment and Compatibility Assessment reports, according to the requirements of the European Commission from 2019 and 2022.

Earlier that week, a high-level meeting took place in Brussels between the European Commission and the Bulgarian Ministers of Regional Development and Public Works, and of Environment and Waters, to discuss the destiny of the Kresna gorge. 

“Crucial decisions important for all Bulgarian citizens are taken in complete obscurity”, criticised Andrey Kovatchev, from Balkani Wildlife Society, an NGO, following closely the Kresna gorge case, insisting on transparency by the institutions. 


[1] The full text of the decision of the Bern Convention Committee on the “Kresnen Gorge” case, published on 3 December 2023, is available here, page 19.

179. Noted the suggestion that the EIA on all the alternatives, and the results of the Technical Workshop should be presented to the Standing Committee.

[2] Countries that voted for opening the case file file – Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, Hungary, Finland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden.Countries that voted against opening (or “for a potential file”) – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Cyprus, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Serbia, Croatia.

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