SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s president on Saturday vetoed new measures that would have made it easier for developers to build ski runs and ski lifts after three days of protests by environmentalists who said the move threatened the Balkan country’s forests.
The measures – approved by parliament last Wednesday – were designed to boost winter tourism by spurring a construction boom by doing away with the need for developers to buy state land or pay fees to change its official use.
But Rosen Plevneliev, who won the presidency last October with the backing of the ruling centre-right GERB party, said he was vetoing the move to give the cabinet and environmentalists more time to reach a compromise on the divisive issue.
“The law raises reasonable doubts about…unbalanced decisions which will confront us with irreparable consequences to the environment,” Plevneliev said, adding that he believed the country did, however, need to find a way of developing its winter resorts.
His intervention followed three days of protests during which about 30 people were arrested for blocking a major traffic intersection in Sofia, the capital.
Environmental activists had argued the measures would benefit only a few influential ski developers, making it easier and cheaper for them to destroy the country’s forests and wildlife.
Eager to mute public discontent in one of the European Union’s poorest countries, Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said he welcomed the veto and urged deputies to review the changes, taking into account the arguments of local communities near resorts and of activists.
Ski resorts in the Rila, Pirin and Rhodopi mountains in the south of the Balkan country have flourished thanks to low prices compared to resorts in the Alps, while still offering good infrastructure and reliable snow, and the government is keen to expand the sector.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)