European Commission President Juncker wants EU laws on nature conservation modernised. But environmental activists have warned against weakening the current legislation. EURACTIV Germany reports.
European Union conservation laws are under the spotlight; the debate first started when Jean-Claude Juncker sent a mission letter to Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella in early 2015, asking for a “fitness check” of the Birds and Habitats directives and to ascertain whether both could be “more modern”. The Commission is in the process of analysing the report and in June will decide whether the legislation needs revision.
Many land use associations and industry representatives support the fitness check. The Federation of German Industries (BDI) has in the past complained that the legislation often has “vague requirements” and creates a “great deal of legal uncertainty”, as well as “procedural delays”.
However, environmental groups fear for the future of Natura 2000, a network of protected areas in the EU and one of the largest schemes of its kind in the world. They are concerned that reform would lead to road building, power plants and urban development on many of the 25,000 sites that make up the network.
The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and 27 of its partners have now produced a report that examines the future of the EU’s legislation and heavily criticises plans to reform it.
The NGO’s president, Olaf Tschimpke, said that the only result of the fitness checks should be “increased enforcement of conservation laws and adequate funding”, but not a “weakening”. Reform would suggest that the Commission is ignoring past successes of the system. “Several studies have shown that EU conservation legislation has already saved many species, as we face a decline of biodiversity,” Tschimpke added. For example, such studies have shown that the crane population of Western Europe has increased from 45,000 in 1985 to 300,000 in 2012.
Environmental organisation WWF also said that the short-term effects of Juncker’s policies on industry and growth could threaten 60% of plant and animal species, as well as 70% of their habitats. Bear, eagle and whale numbers are predicted to fall.
EU environment ministers and the European Parliament have already called upon the Commission to not weaken the conservation laws. A mid-term review of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, carried out by the legislature called upon EU leaders “to listen to the half a million citizens who have called for our strong nature protection laws to be upheld and better implemented”.
FACE, the European Federation of Associations for Hunting & Conservation, gave the following response: “FACE is fully committed to supporting the Nature Directives. The Nature Directives are appropriate legal instruments to assist in the delivery of current biodiversity targets; however, they require greater political and local support.
While evidence shows that site protection measures under the Birds Directive have been successful in delivering results, the Natura 2000 Network is one of the most evident achievements of EU nature policy.
It benefits from the fact that it is based on the principle of conservation and sustainable use, ensuring lasting coexistence with human activities and biodiversity conservation; as such it is not in contradiction with hunting, on the contrary, the Nature Directives fully recognise the legitimacy of hunting as a form of sustainable use.
The benefits of hunting are sometimes not recognised and can be reduced, due to a lack of flexibility in the interpretation and implementation of the Nature Directives; thereby negatively impacting rural economies and the achievement of environmental goals.
While against the opening of the Nature Directives, FACE is calling for a more flexible approach and improved implementation with greater recognition of sustainable use, based on scientific knowledge and facts.”