STRASBOURG, France — Twenty-six members of the European Parliament are calling on the legislative body to compel Serbia to enforce existing environmental laws at the construction site for the Shandong Linglong Tire Co. Ltd.'s factory being built near Zrenjanin, Serbia.
In a letter to EP Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, the members noted that Serbia has designated Linglong's investment a "Project of National Interest," which "situates this Chinese investor above the laws most other investors have to abide by."
The members of parliament noted that environmental situation at other projects in Serbia involving Chinese investment — including a steel mill, a copper mine/smeltery and a coal power plant — has "deteriorated drastically" as they progressed, "impacting the surrounding communities' collective health and well-being."
Despite these developments, the letter continues, the Serbian government has not mandated the situation be rectified nor pursued to the extent of the law the requirements for licensing, environmental impact statements, etc.
In the case of the Linglong plant, the members of parliament point out that more than two dozen lawsuits and administrative requests have been filed to challenge the project's irregularities and that residents in the area claim they have been barred from testifying with regards to potential environmental impact on their homes.
Among the suits is one by the Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI), a Serbian environmental group that claims the Chinese tire maker started the construction work without carrying out an environmental impact assessment study.
In addition, the politicians state, the project is slated to be linked directly to the Zrenjanin public water system without guarantees of filtration or safeguards to maintain water quality, presenting another potential health hazard, not only to the surrounding Serbian population but also to residents of Hungary and Romania, which are in relative close proximity to Zrenjanin.
Taken together, the letter concludes, "these issues present a worrying picture but also call to action. The Shandong Linglong tire factory construction is emblematic of the current growing impact of China's economic footprint in Serbia — procedurally reckless projects with potentially devastating multiple impacts on the wider environment as well as surrounding population, all covered under a veil of non-transparency.
"As such, we reiterate the need to call on the Serbian government to provide a clear action plan moving forward on how they are going to address the existing issues outlined above, as well as a commitment to honoring and following both their own domestic legislation and the regulations passed down as part of the EU accession process."
The letter's signatories are from 15 European nations.
Linglong broke ground on the $994 million factory in April 2019 at a 320-acre site in the Zrenjanin Free Trade Zone. The plant itself will span 4.24 million square feet, Linglong said, and will have annual production capacities of 12 million car tires, 1.6 million truck/bus tires and 20,000 off-the-road tires.
Linglong, the No. 14 tire maker worldwide with 2019 sales of $2.4 billion, said at that time the Serbian unit and the development of European sales will help it become the world's 10th largest tire maker.
The company has not commented publicly on the issues raised by the letter.