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REFIT conference leaves Commission with little appetite to review Directives on Nature Protection

First the MEPs, then ten Member States joined over 500 000 citizens in calling for the European Commission not to re draft the Nature Directives as a result of the REFIT that Vice Presidency Franz Timmermans has been leading over the last few months. ENEP and representatives from the new Thematic Task Force attended the REFIT conference on the Nature Directives on Friday 20th November 2015 as one of the contributing organisations.

Amongst the 500 strong audience critical voices from fisheries, agriculture and those representing industry were outweighed during the conference by supportive evidence and opinion from within their own sectors. One of the overall themes to emerge was the overwhelming level of response from citizens to the consultation. Orchestrated by the NGOs, that level of citizen’s response has clearly taken opponents by surprise and made many politicians sit up and take notice and be seen to be supporting the Nature Directives. Commissioner Vella’s, who opened the conference, demonstrated a significant change in tone from when he embarked on the REFIT process. One of the most compelling speeches strongly supporting the Nature Directives came from Elsa Nickel from the German Ministry of the Environment, who underlined the German position in general. She was followed by a representative from the Dutch Government who underlined her position against reopening the Nature Directives.

Conversely, this situation could make it very difficult to change anything in the Birds and Habitats Directives including Article 10 for which there is a general feeling now that the annex is not strong enough on management of landscape features linking the Natura 2000 network. Conference participants expressed concern that through opening up the annexes one by one the directives could be weaken nature protection through the back door.

However, views differ on this point and the now quite widespread recognition that the Annexes need adjusting may hopefully enable the EC to find a way of doing this without opening up the articles for ratification.

There are still many calls (some understandable from smaller and more recent MS and from land managers and local authorities) to apply the Directives with more ‘flexibility’ – which can mean what it says, or could be a disguise for non-compliance and turning a blind eye to infringements, which would clash with the many calls for stronger enforcement. Similarly, many declared ‘supporters’ of the Nature Directives talked about more ‘pragmatic’ or more ‘realistic’ implementation. However, in terms of professional practice we otherwise should welcome the widespread and often repeated pleas for better and more harmonious guidance, training, filling of knowledge gaps and sharing of experience and best practice.

The Netherlands, that takes on the next six month rotating Presidency on the 1st January intend to hold a conference in Amsterdam 2016 on Nature Protection Policies – to promote good practice and flexible interpretation during Dutch presidency. He called for the Commission to focus on a European network on implementation and enforcement of environmental laws.

Closing the conference, DG Environment’s new Director General, Daniel Callejo Crespo confirmed that the report would be finished by the consultants (Millieu Ltd) before the end of December and would integrate comments of the conference. He suggested that the European Commission would need time to consider internally its findings before publishing a ‘staff working document’ on the EC position in time for the Dutch Presidency Amsterdam Conference in the Spring of 2016. Among this documents themes could be:-

  • The need to view nature directives in the broader context of nature and biodiversity;
  • That nature directives alone cannot address all issues and need for action in wider landscape;
  • The need to be ambitious about financing to consider improved policy integration and use of resources efficiently;
  • Effective implementation, EC to ensure they understand the challenges, shared approaches. Smart implementation, training, guidance, best practice how to employ all implementation tools to maximum effect.
  • Enhanced enforcement critical so EC will take its role.
  • Improve links to jobs, growth and the economy especially for SMEs




Issue 46