The European Commission has no evidence to suggest that industrial development on the Spanish side of the Bay of Gibraltar has breached EU conservation laws, Europe’s environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said.
Mr Vella was responding to a parliamentary question from a Spanish MEP who said relentless industrial development and pollution had turned this region into a social and environmental “powder keg”.
Florent Marcellesi, an MEP with Spanish party EQUO and member of the Greens/European Free Alliance, had accused the Spanish authorities of “riding roughshod” over EU directives and conservation aims.
But in his response, Mr Vella said individual member states were primarily responsible for implementing the EU’s Habitats Directive, Europe’s main piece of conservation legislation.
“In the absence of information about the specific plans or projects referred to by [Mr Marcellesi], the Commission is not in a position to express any views on the compatibility of these activities with the provisions under the Habitats Directive,” Mr Vella said.
“Therefore, in the absence of evidence pointing to a breach of the Habitats Directive, the Commission does not intend to undertake actions in this regard at this stage.”
In his question to the Commission, Mr Marcellesi had argued that the area administered by the Algeciras Port Authority bordered four municipalities and Gibraltar, as well as several conservation sites protected under EU nature laws, but that there was little coordination between various administrations, including those here.
Many projects being developed in the region would have a negative impact not just on protected conservation sites, but on communities on both sides of the border.
“No account has been taken of the synergy of polluting industries both in Spain and in the bordering country, so that the bay has become a ‘powder keg’ in all respects, both environmentally and socially,” the Green MEP said in his question.
But Mr Vella replied that European legislation did not prevent construction within or close to sites designated under the EU’s Natura 2000 conservation network.
“For these sites, the directives do not prohibit the development of projects or activities within or around Natura 2000 sites, but require that any plan or project likely to have a significant effect thereon be subject to an appropriate assessment and only be authorised after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect — individually or in combination with other plans or projects — the integrity of the site concerned,” Mr Vella said.
“Where the plan or project has to be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest and in the absence of alternative solutions, the project can be authorised even if the integrity of the site is adversely affected, provided that the Member State takes all compensatory measures necessary to protect the overall coherence of the network…”
EQUO is Spain’s Green party and is led by Juantxo López de Uralde, the former head of Greenpeace in Spain and a man very familiar with environmental issues in the bay.
Many of the issues in the MEP’s question have long been championed by Campo groups such as Verdemar Ecologistas en Acción and, in Gibraltar, by the Environmental Safety Group.
But Spanish authorities have persistently maintained that all development projects comply with European environmental directives, while the industry itself insists it complies full with anti-pollution legislation.