1,001 nights: The long saga of the EU Nature Directives

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Most EU governments have backed maintaining the directives as they are. So why has the Commission taken so long? [Tambako/Flickr]

It’s been 988 days and nights since the European Commission announced that it was planning a ‘fitness check’ of the Birds and Habitats Directives. Yet, after all this time, we’re still waiting for a conclusion of this saga and a clear statement from the Commission, writes Andreas Baumüller.

Andreas Baumüller is Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office.

The uncertainty on the issue has lasted for far too long; this situation is unacceptable, as it creates uncertainty for member states, citizens and businesses alike.

The evidence is crystal clear: The Nature Directives are ‘fit for purpose’!

Last year, the EU Fitness Check public consultation mobilised more than half a million people to underline that the EU Nature Directives are fit for purpose and should not be revised – a record number for an EU public consultation. The results of the independent consultancy carrying out the consultation, as reported in yesterday’s EURACTIV article quoting the leaked final report, came to the same conclusion.

But not only that: the majority of EU governments, including Germany, Poland, Spain, France, Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, Luxembourg, Romania, Greece, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary, as well as the UK’s prime minister David Cameron just a couple of weeks ago, have also stressed the importance of maintaining the Nature Directives and focusing on better implementation; the Dutch Presidency had itself also expressed the need for a strong focus on better implementation of the legislation.

In addition, the European Parliament came out strongly in favour of not revising the Directives, with 86% of its members stressing that full implementation and enforcement of the Nature Directives is a vital prerequisite for ensuring the success of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

Nevertheless, we have been waiting for the official release of the independent consultancy report – which summarises the findings of the public consultation – and the Commission’s Working Document for many months now. In order to view this text officially, WWF submitted an official ‘access to documents’ request to the Commission, but just received an email delaying the answer until 7 July. Why?

What is the Juncker Commission waiting for?

In yesterday’s hearing in the EP’s Environment Committee, in which European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans was grilled on the issue by MEPs from across the political spectrum, it was great to see that they strongly reiterated the European public’s call to save the Directives. Disappointingly, though, Commissioner Timmermans did not provide any satisfactory answerson what is holding back the decision.

Why this Commission is not capable of publishing a mere factual report, based on the findings it had received back last autumn? Given the widespread support, it is totally unclear why the Commission is not taking a decision. Something or someone appears to be holding this back – maybe because they don’t like the findings?

As a result of this behaviour, due to the lack of input from the Commission, the Dutch presidency just cancelled its much anticipated and politically charged Ministerial Conference on this issue in a highly unusual move. This failure by the Juncker Commission is not only deeply embarrassing for President Juncker and his college, but also truly shocking.

The Commission must now explain the reasons behind what looks like deliberate delaying tactics. We expect President Juncker to urgently provide a transparent response to the half a million citizens who have spoken out in favour of the Nature Directives.

Further Reading

Commission research shows Nature Directives don't need 'better regulation'

EXCLUSIVE/ EU rules to protect birdlife and habitats – under threat from a review driven by the European Commission’s ‘better regulation’ strategy - are fit for purpose, according to leaked research that fuelled demands to leave the laws alone.