EU nature laws to stay, commission confirms

8th December 2016

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Margaret Christie

Environmental campaigners have called for better implementation of the EU birds and habitats directive after the European Commission confirmed that the laws would not be weakened.

The future of the directives has been in doubt since 2014, when commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced that they were to be reviewed as part of a regulatory ‘fitness check’.

The directives are the bloc’s central nature protection laws, safeguarding more than 1,400 threatened species and one million square kilometres of habitat through the Natura 2000 network. Environmental organisations from across the EU had joined forces in a campaign to defend the directives, which was backed by more than 520,000 members of the public.

A review carried out by a consortium led by Brussels-based consultants Milieu found that the directives would be more effective if implementation and enforcement was improved and more money was made available for that. The findings were backed by a majority of MEPs in February and EU environment ministers, including the UK’s then environment minister Rory Stewart, in December.

Yesterday, the commission debated the directives and the results of the review, and later issued a statement backing its findings. The commission also highlighted local problems fulfilling the directives’ requirements, such as delays and burdens related to permitting, and pledged to develop an action plan to improve implementation.

This will include regular meetings with local authorities to assess ongoing challenges and identify solutions. The commission said it would publish guidelines on implementation, with the aim of reducing unnecessary burdens and litigation.

Environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said: ‘Our “fitness check” has recognised that the European birds and habitats directives remain relevant and fit for purpose. Protecting and investing more in nature is essential as so many depend on it also economically – it is literally a grassroots approach.’

The commission’s focus will now be on ensuring the directives are implemented in the most effective and efficient way for nature, people and the economy, he added.

Robbie Blake, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: ‘This is a defeat for those who seek to slash our environmental protections in the name of cutting so-called red-tape.’

Andreas Baumueller, head of natural resources at WWF’s European policy office, said that the commission should open a new chapter to address the insufficient implementation of the laws, and ensure their enforcement. ‘The best law is not worth the paper it is written on if it is not sufficiently implemented,’ he said.

Others called for a thorough overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Pieter de Pous, EU policy director at the European Environmental Bureau, said: ‘The CAP continues to degrade our natural environment by rewarding the biggest farms which pollute the most, driving up the cost of preserving our habitats and wildlife even further.

‘The longer it takes to reform the CAP and align it with environmental objectives, the more difficult and expensive it will be to halt nature loss.’


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