More than 100 environmental NGOs said on Tuesday (12 May) that they feared the European Commission may use its better regulation programme to cut nature protection laws.
The European Commission opened a consultation on Tuesday into EU nature legislation as part of its Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT).
REFIT is part of the better regulation strategy led by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. It aims to simplify EU law and reduce regulatory costs, but has been criticised for endangering social and environmental standards.
Campaigners are worried that the consultation is a first step towards sacrificing the Birds and Habitats Directives in a bid to become more “business friendly”.
Designed to “maintain the population of all species of wild birds in the EU at a level which corresponds to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements”, the Birds Directive bans activities like collecting eggs and destroying nests. Hunting is also limited to specific seasons, methods and species.
The Habitats Directive aims to “maintain or restore natural habitats and species of EU interest” by providing special conservation status for over 1,000 species of plants and animals in some 230 different habitat types.
The European Union boasts some of the strongest nature protection laws in the world, supported by the extensive Natura 2000 network of conservation sites. It covers almost a fifth of the EU’s land area and 4% of its seas.
Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella insisted that REFIT was not intended to bring down standards. “The Birds and Habitats Directives form a cornerstone of Europe’s nature conservation policy. I am therefore committed to ensuring that there is no scaling back on its objectives,” he said.
But the “clearly hostile” tone of the consultation has worried many NGOs, who launched an online campaign called “Nature Alert” on Tuesday 12 May. In its first day it received a record 50,000 responses.
Cutting red tape
Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau, said, “The European Commission’s current fixation with deregulation and cutting so-called ‘red tape’ is blinding it to the effective solutions for endangered habitats and species”.
In July 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament he would “free [SMEs] from burdensome regulation” in order to increase jobs, growth and investment.
Timmermans axed 80 bills from the Commission’s 2015 work programme, including the Circular Economy package of waste management laws. The Maternity Leave Directive will be ditched at the end of this month if it fails to make headway.
The Circular Economy package contained a range of legally binding targets for waste disposal and recycling, including a ban on landfilling for all recyclable and biodegradable waste by 2025.
The Commission plans to resubmit the plans later in 2015. Timmermans said “We will do this very quickly because we want the Circular Economy […] we want to put something on the table that is more ambitious.”
A leaked better regulation strategy paper stressed that the push to cut red tape would not lower environmental or other standards.
“Better regulation is not about “more” or “less” EU regulation; nor about deregulating or deprioritising certain policy areas or compromising the values that we hold dear,” it said.
New guidelines on better regulation will ensure economic, social and environmental impacts are considered in Commission analysis, it added.