Commission ‘barking up the wrong tree’ on nature law review

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

The Commission should refocus on saving Europe's crumbling biodiversity. [Gilberto Pereira/Flickr]

The European Commission should focus its efforts on ensuring the Birds and Habitats Directives are correctly implemented, not waste time reshuffling legislation that is already fit for purpose, writes Ariel Brunner.

Ariel Brunner is Senior Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe.

Last week the European Commission published the first results of its Fitness Check of the Birds and Habitat Directives, in the form of an evaluation study produced by experts on their behalf.

It comes ahead of the Commission’s conference on the Fitness Check of these laws this Friday (20 November). The picture emerging fully vindicates our view that the attack on the directives ordered by President Juncker was misguided. The Commission has been barking up the wrong tree.

It now has the opportunity to refocus on the job of actually saving Europe’s collapsing biodiversity. The evidence points in the same direction indicated recently by ten national Environment Ministers and Biodiversity lead MEPs from across the entire political spectrum in the European Parliament.

On the five criteria discussed as part of the Fitness Check process, the study made the following observations.

On effectiveness, it found that the Nature Directives are very effective for nature conservation, based on the evidence examined, and that they have also encouraged a more integrated management of nature with socio-economic activities within the European Union.

In terms of how efficient the directives are, the report found that while the costs of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, created and governed by the Nature Directives, are estimated at around €5.8 billion per year, the benefits are far higher. Economic benefits through the delivery of ecosystem services run to about €200-300 billion per year, with a further €50-85 billion per year generated in benefits for local economies through job creation and tourism.

The study found no reason for merging the Nature Directives, saying that they are largely coherent, internally and with each other, and that they also work alongside other European Union policies and legislation and the international commitments of the EU.

According to the report, the Nature Directives make positive contributions to sustainable development and they’ve also been designed to allow economic development, when such development is compatible with biodiversity goals. It added that no evidence has been provided which shows the directives have significantly constrained overall sustainable development.

Lastly, on the added value that the directives provide, the evidence reviewed as part of the study recognises that innovative elements have been added to conservation protection in Europe that would not necessarily have been provided had these laws not been there.

Although the evidence looked at in the study gives no support to merging and modernising the directives, it does clearly point to the need to strengthen their enforcement. The Nature Alert campaign we have been jointly leading with other conservation NGOs is calling for the same thing; that rather than re-opening the Nature Directives, the Commission should instead be looking at where they’re not being properly followed.

The Birds and Habitats Directives are fit for purpose and there is clearly no case for ‘merging and modernising’ them. It’s also clear where the real problems are: poor and uneven enforcement of the laws, a lack of funding and the impact of perverse policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy.

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