Implementation and compliance: room for improvement
According to the European Commission, the EU could save 50 billion EUR per year by improving implementation of its environmental legislation, including on nature protection. Despite a good level of transposition in legislation, a key problem is that there are no systematic inspection systems to ensure compliance. In many countries there is no mechanism to control the protection of species and habitats on the ground, or resources to ensure that land management practices are not degrading Natura 2000 sites. Although Member State regulators may comply with the stringent Article 6 impact assessments of the Habitats Directive when giving consent to potentially damaging development, they often do not have the procedures or resources in place to ensure that projects are developed according to the consent given. This includes the proper and timely implementation of mitigation or compensation measures that may be required in order to avoid impacts on the Natura 2000 network (Lack of compensation).
Implementation and enforcement of the sites and species safeguards in the Nature Directives are also hampered by poor understanding by member state regulators, judiciary or law enforcement services of the necessary processes and requirements. Regulators may not have training in application of the directives, or have expertise in ecology or environmental assessment. It is welcome that the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy now contains a training initiative to address this although there is not yet much evidence that EU Member States are acting upon this.
Added to this, the European Commission has very limited capability to do its own inspections to ensure that the Nature Directives are being implemented properly on the ground in EU Member States. First of all, it normally relies heavily on information from civil society about specific breaches of EU law. Secondly the Commission largely has to base its infringement procedures against governments on written information provided by the government itself, and has neither competence nor capacities to gather first hand data on the ground. In this context, there is a huge potential of modern IT and remote sensing technology that the European Commission is not exploiting so far.
The European Commission’s 2012 Communication ‘Improving the delivery of benefits from EU environment measures: building confidence through better knowledge and responsiveness’ gives a promising new momentum to this issue. The European Environment Commissioner announced that implementation will be a key focus of the upcoming 7th Environmental Action Programme of the EU.