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Delayed conclusions on Nature Directives leaked

The European Commission’s weekly workload on migration policy has seemingly taken its toll on a Dutch Presidency nature conference that had been scheduled to take place from 28th to 30th June in Amsterdam.  The conference had been set up to discuss a high profile set of European Commission conclusions on the REFIT to the Birds and Habitats directives. The REFIT, which has been followed closely by the ENEP Thematic Task Force on Nature Directives, concluded last December and its formal conclusion will now not be published until the Autumn.  However, in a dramatic development last week, the report compiled for the European Commission leaked!  NGOs had reacted angrily to the Commission sitting on the document claiming that some “dubious behind the scenes lobbying work” was the key to the delay. The leak came as Franz Timmermans the Commission’s First Vice President was due to address the European Parliament’s environment committee.  

The draft report concludes that the Nature Directives are fit for purpose and they are now making satisfactory progress towards their aims, particularly in the establishment of the Natura 2000 network (although more needs to be done in the marine environment). It goes onto say that there are good reasons to expect more widespread improvements in conservation status when the Directives’ measures are fully implemented. On Cost Benefit it argues that implementation is exceeding their costs and whilst there are examples of disproportionate costs and unnecessary burdens, these can be reduced through more efficient implementation. Critically, the authors argue that there is little evidence to suggest that the Directives themselves create inefficient outcomes, examples suggest that efficiency could be improved by more cost-effective implementation, especially at national and regional level. The directives do ensure a level playing field for nature protection standards across the EU, and provide economic operators with legal certainty. They are also vital in avoiding a ‘race to the bottom’ in environmental standards across the EU.

On the issue of updating the annexes to the directive, the report argues that some benefits may lead to improve the coverage and take account of changes to some threatened species) it seems highly likely that this would be currently counter-productive, as it would retard implementation measures and lead to additional costs and burdens for national authorities, businesses and other stakeholders.

In terms of areas for improvement, the report sought to assess opportunities for improvement, and identify those practices that illustrate the benefits to be gained from better implementation of the legislation. It suggests that the availability of public funding for implementation of the Directives, including administrative management and site conservation measures are key.  The adoption of management plans, setting of national and regional standards and effective approaches for the management of Natura 2000 sites in Member States / regions for EU protected habitats and species.  Closing the remaining gaps in knowledge, and the need to increase the coordination and sharing of data, monitoring practices and results among stakeholders and Member States including experiences of implementation and sharing best practice.

The need for more guidance and capacity to understand, interpret and learn from good practice on all aspects of implementation of the Directives, and insufficient dissemination of existing guidance (e.g. through translation, tailoring from EU to national contexts, etc.).

Improving public awareness and understanding of the Directives and their benefits and implications, despite the importance attached by citizens to nature.

Increasing capacity-building at national and local levels, through communication of the existing guidance and through trainings.

The working document was produced following last December’s REFIT stakeholder event closed a substantial 12-month period of consultation involving more than 500,000 responses and one of the European Commission’s largest consultations conducted in the institutions history.  The Dutch Presidency had hoped that the document should have provided the basis for discussion about the future implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives throughout the EU. NGOs called on the Commission not to revise the directives, but to focus on the better implementation.



Issue 49