NEWS

MEET OUR MEMBER: Zelena akcija – peacefully for social justice and solidarity

05-03-2019
Category: Other

Zelena akcija (ZA) / (Friends of the Earth Croatia) active from 1990, is a civil society organisation for environment and nature protection and promotion of sustainable development in Croatia. It still operates as the strongest environmental association in Croatia. Zelena akcija is openly and publicly engaged in all decision-making processes on different levels of environmental policy in Croatia but with consistent activist engagement, systematically bringing together and employing educated experts.

Zelena Akcija strives to an ecologically and socially sustainable society at local and global level in which citizens take care of the nature and environment through participation and achieve high quality of life. ZA achieves its aims through non-violent direct actions, campaigns, information exchange and education, joint work of professional team and volunteers, all through cooperation with other organisations and public participation.

ZA currently has 9 main programmes: natural resources, waste management, energy, climate change, transport, environmental law, environmental centre, Green Phone and Activist group. Collectively these programmes address water issues, fossil fuel projects, hydro- and solar power and related legal issues.

ZA has always had a strong cross-sectoral cooperation, namely because our core values include social justice and solidarity. We are part of a national network of environmental organisations called Green Forum, but we are also a vital member of the so-called Platform 112. It gathers 71 civil society organizations that have been engaged in the protection of human rights for a number of years, gender justice, LGBTIQ rights, democratisation, peace building, the suppression of corruption and the protection of public resources, especially the environment. We’ve also been very active in the “Welcome!” Initiative for the past 3 years, which gathers individuals and civil society organizations with the aim to support refugees on the ground, but also to put political pressure on Croatian and EU institutions to change restrictive migration policies.

WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR ORGANIZATION IN RECENT YEARS?

After five years of campaigning, we managed to stop construction of the harmful coal power plant “Plomin C”. We had consistently indicated the harmful environmental and health consequences, low economic feasibility and the negative impact of this project in terms of climate change, as well as incompatibility with EU's regulations, while constantly advocating for the use of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. We organized around 40 actions, performances, lectures and other events, carried out a few studies about the legality, and the economical and energy efficiency of the project. We also initiated three court cases. We sent letters to potential investors and banks arguing the harmfulness of the project, organized a big campaign before the advisory (local) referendum in Labinština, communicated with the European Commission pointing out the unacceptability of the planned contract of HEP (Croatian Power Utility) with a Japanese investor. All of these activities, in conjunction with the increased European practice of abandoning coal, mean that realization of the project 'Plomin C' is no longer possible!

Towards an oil-free Adriatic

“S.O.S. Adriatic” campaign was aimed at stopping oil and gas exploration and exploitation in the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea. FoE Croatia partnered with groups, communities and citizens to oppose the project, putting pressure on the government and received support from organisations abroad, especially from Italy, Slovenia, Montenegro. That led to a regional platform “One Adriatic” dedicated to creating an oil-free Adriatic Sea. Civil society organisations in Austria helped to push the Austrian company OMV to back out from the project. After two years of intense activities, and thanks to big public pressure, including many supportive celebrities, the Government was forced to abandon the project in June 2016.

And there’s the waste problem

After more than 20 years of consistently pushing for the construction of a waste incinerator in Zagreb, the City Assembly made a decision in October 2017 to scrap this damaging project from the Zagreb Spatial Plan. The persistent desire to build an incinerator led to a poor and inadequate waste separation system and numerous illegal landfills. After a 27-year struggle, this is a huge victory for ZA and a crucial step forward in the chaotic waste management system in Zagreb.

WHAT IS THE MAJOR CHANGE YOU ARE STRIVING FOR RIGHT NOW?

Currently we are running a big campaign against building a LNG terminal on Krk Island. The terminal's initial annual capacity was planned to be three times Croatia's annual consumption. In 2015, the government turned it into a strategic investment project, completed an environmental impact assessment procedure and was granted a location permit. In 2016, it was decided to accelerate the project by adding a floating terminal at first, with the on-shore terminal coming later. In 2017, thanks to its PCI status, the project received no less than €102 million of European public subsidies for the implementation of Phase 1 of the project. The project has been strongly politicised and prioritised by the Croatian government and the European Commission, but it casts serious economic, environmental and climate doubts. The project in its 1st stage - floating form - is now strongly opposed by all local municipalities from Krk Island,  the Primorsko-Goranska County and local environmental NGOs. <o:p></o:p>

The environmental impact assessments (EIA) carried for the Krk LNG terminal is full of omissions and procedural mistakes. The authors of the EIA for the Krk LNG terminal hence rejected 80% of the 845 objections made by the 160 applicants who took part in the consultation. Three lawsuits against the validation of this controversial EIA were filed by Zelena akcija/FoE Croatia, jointly with the local NGO Zelena Istra, by Omišalj Municipality and Primorsko-Goranska County. Unfortunately, the Rijeka Administrative Court dismissed all three lawsuits stating that there wasn’t  any illegality in the process of enacting the decision on the environmental impact assessment. This example shows that there is in fact no adequate legal protection in environmental protection procedures in Croatia.

Furthermore, the Croatian Parliament adopted a special law in June 2018 to fast-track the procedure of building the LNG terminal, favoring LNG with many long-term concessions. While the law aims at regulating the settlement of property relations at the location of the terminal, it consists of a long list of favors given to LNG Croatia, endangering the preservation of Croatia’s most valuable goods, the sea and the coast, and the environment in general. Beyond its problematic content, the process was also paved with illegal procedural mistakes - the law was in public debate for only 15 days rather than the required minimum 30 days to allow sufficient public debate.

Apart from legal activities, ZA has organised several actions and public debates on the topic, together with local and European experts. ZA will continue campaigning against the project, with the support of European organisations and networks.

HOW DOES JUSTICE AND ENVIRONMENT CONTRIBUTE TO ACHIEVING THE OBJECTIVES OF YOUR NATIONAL ORGANISATION?

Zelena akcija joined J&E in 2007, the year when ZA started its Environmental Law Programme. The network and all its member organisations were of crucial importance for ZA in Croatia’s accession to EU process. From 2007 until 2013, when Croatia became an EU member state, ZA was monitoring and commenting on the transposition of EU aquis into Croatian legislation, also providing examples of legal solutions from different EU countries. The knowledge and expertise from J&E were of great importance in that period and helped ZA to improve Croatian environmental legislation. Also, the experience of J&E legal expertise with EU and national law gave major assistance in providing free legal aid to Croatian citizens and environmental CSOs by ZA.

Every action has a reaction...and a reaction

In 2009, the Croatian Ministry of Environment Protection and Energy launched a case against ZA, for a peaceful protest action held in front of the Ministry building. A small group of activists exhibited empty cans of paint and varnish in the shape of a question mark for 7 hours in front of the Ministry to protest the Ministry's failure to implement the Waste Act and provide collection points for waste paint. The Ministry, however, in its statement described it as illegal dumping of waste, which carries a fine of 50 000 to 110 000 euros - a sum which would bankrupt the NGO. Ironically, the action was successful and led to the provision of free waste paint disposal services at the recycling yards in Zagreb.

At that time, J&E expressed its support to ZA and stated that such exercise of rights from the Croatian state authorities represents violation of the Aarhus Convention, ratified by Croatia in 2007, potentially risking a procedure against Croatia in front of the international bodies. J&E’s legal arguments were also crucial for the Court. Eventually all charges were dropped, and the Ministry did not even submit an appeal to that decision.