Dumping construction waste in the Reva marsh in Belgrade and the disposal of untreated wastewater into rivers would be considered environmental crimes in the EU, Co-chair of the European Green Party Thomas Waitz said during his stay in Serbia. He revealed he would raise such issues in the European Parliament together with the controversy over Rio Tinto’s lithium mining project.
The European Parliament and elected representatives have the role to talk about environmental devastation in Serbia, to clearly point out the problems and look for solutions, Co-chair of the European Green Party Thomas Waitz told Balkan Green Energy News.
Shocked with contamination
He said he came to Serbia to again give support to local movement Don’t Let Belgrade Drown (Ne davimo Beograd) and speak with people from civil society organizations that are working on the green transition, social justice, good governance and transparency and making institutions functional.
There is a thin line between naming problems and supporting solutions on the one side, and patronizing independent countries on the other, according to Waitz
Waitz admitted that despite his familiarity with the environmental issues in Serbia, he was shocked when he witnessed untreated wastewater being poured into the Danube and saw the construction waste landfill in the Reva bog in Belgrade next to the same river. He vowed to speak about it in the European Parliament and asserted such cases would be declared “environmental crimes” in the EU.
The European Greens co-chair said he would also raise the issue of the controversy over Rio Tinto’s lithium mining and processing project with other European lawmakers and in the media. He added he saw numerous illegal landfills and massive contamination with plastic along the Danube.
European Commission should speak out
“The European Commission and European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius should speak about environmental issues in Serbia. However, there is a thin line between naming problems and supporting solutions on the one side, and patronizing on the other. I think the EU shouldn’t patronize an independent country. Maybe sometimes the commission is too careful not to step on anybody’s toes. I would very much welcome it if it was more outspoken,” Weiz said.
Serbia is officially working to join the EU and supporting the goal in a rhetorical sense but it has actually been moving backward for the last seven or eight years, he pointed out. The current government is not interested in joining the EU, in the MEP’s view.
Mining giants like lax laws
As for Rio Tinto’s project in Jadar near Loznica, he said the company and other mining giants aren’t ready for modern environmental standards. “Mining is a super dirty business in most of the cases. That’s why there are few newly opened mines within the European Union,” in his view.
While the company’s project in Serbia is being developed, information and contracts are hidden, locals and other stakeholders didn’t get a say and the environmental assessment process wasn’t transparent, Waitz warned.
“They are searching for countries with weak regulations, weak institutions, weak environmental laws, where there is no participation by the local population, no relevant resistance by the local populations because they are scared by the authorities. So that’s what international mining companies like,” he stated.
Solution is in recycling, circular economy
The strategy of consuming and throwing away brings profits to very few people and it is killing the planet, Waitz underscored and pointed to recycling and introducing the circulatory economy principles as a solution.
“We will need big amounts of lithium to change our transportation system from combustion engines to electrified engines. Getting out of fossil fuels is neither an ideological question nor is it a question of political positioning. It’s just facts that tell us we have to reduce our CO2 emissions if we want to sustain our livelihoods… The demand for lithium, if you ask me, should be first served by recycling. There’s only 3% to 5% of lithium recycled globally,” he stressed.
More and more people in the Balkans are ready to stand up for their rights, good quality of life and participation in making decisions about mining and infrastructure projects
Waitz singled out air pollution as the biggest environmental challenge in Serbia and other Balkan countries. He said he is seeing more and more citizens ready to stand up for their rights, good quality of life and for participation in making decisions about mining and infrastructure projects.