Europe and Central Asia
2 Oct 2015

EU admits failing its own targets for protecting nature

Intensive agriculture, Denmark
The EU is failing to address unsustainable agriculture. In the photo above, intensive agriculture fields in Denmark © Jan Skriver
By Finlay Duncan

The mid-term review of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 has today been published by the European Commission – and it shows only limited progress has been made on many of the key targets set at the start of this decade, with a complete failure to address unsustainable agriculture.

The review spells out that the European Union is failing many of its own targets for reversing the decline in biodiversity, which keeps many plants and animals under threat of extinction.

Also of concern is the number of bird species with a 'non-secure' status. Only just more than half (52%) of those assessed can be classified as having a 'secure' population status.

There are also failings in targets to restore ecosystems, with only one of the EU’s 28 member countries (Finland) even presenting a basic restoration plan, never mind implementing one.

Today’s findings from the Commission match warnings we at BirdLife Europe made earlier this year with ourHalfway There?’ report. Our review, released in June, highlighted massive failings in addressing the ecological crisis which is now facing EU farmland. There have been huge reductions in the number of farmland birds in the EU since 1980 (and negative trends show no sign of reversing) and there’s been an alarming wave of grassland destruction in many European countries, including Germany, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

Commenting on today’s release by the Commission, BirdLife Europe’s Head of EU Policy, Ariel Brunner, said: “This review sadly confirms our analysis that the EU is failing on biodiversity, with agriculture as the outstanding disaster zone.

“While overall Europe is not on track, the review confirms that where properly implemented, the Birds and Habitats Directives are delivering recovery of threatened species. During its Fitness Check of these laws, the Commission needs to stand firm against heavy pressure from Member States and industrial lobbies who want to change and weaken them.

“This review shows the EU needs to focus on fixing its broken farm policy and on fully implementing its environmental legislation, not on re-opening laws that are the only parts of the biodiversity strategy that are actually delivering.”

Overall, the Birds and Habitats Directives (the so-called Nature Directives) are central to the EU Biodiversity Strategy, but they’re currently lacking the support and funding needed in order to get results.

The Nature Alert campaign, being led by BirdLife Europe and other conservation organisations, is aiming to change that.

This summer, more than half a million people, the overwhelming majority of responses, called on the Commission in a public consultation to maintain and fully implement the directives. The Commission’s own review is now stating the case for this – when the directives are fully implemented, the reversing of a decline in biodiversity can really be achieved.

Today also sees the Commission publishing a new poll on what the EU's population thinks about biodiversity loss. One of its more striking findings is that more than three quarters of those asked agree it is important to stop biodiversity loss because we have a responsibility to look after nature.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.