Europe and Central Asia
30 Oct 2014

Nature in the crosshair

President of the European Commission Jean - Claude Juncker © Flickr.com - Pietro Naj-Oleari
By Ariel Brunner

The Birds and Habitats Directives are the bedrock of nature conservation in the EU, and yet now they’re under attack in the name of business. Trashing rules will backfire and damage, rather than favour, investments.

The Birds and Habitats Directives are the bedrock of nature conservation in the EU. They are a highly successful example of why the EU is needed, as biodiversity loss is inherently a problem that surpasses national borders. And they work, as shown by a string of scientific studies demonstrating their contribution to conservation. But now they are openly under attack.

When the newly designated President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker nominated Maltese Commissioner Karmenu Vella for environment portfolio (merged with fisheries), he gave him a mandate that reads like a plain order to halt environmental policy making and replace it by a deregulation drive. Conservationists have been shocked to find an order to overhaul the directives and to “assess the potential for merging them into a more modern piece of legislation” as number one priority on the Juncker hit list. Nobody should be so naïve as to fail to see what that means.

The Commission is carrying out a “fitness check” of the nature legislation, but Juncker seems to have already reached his conclusion: these laws are old and need “modernising”. And the call to “merge and modernise” has long been the double speak of those destructive business interests that have been opposing the proper implementation of the directives.

It seems that the new Commission has fallen to the siren songs arguing that nature conservation is a burden on business and that European society needs to re-write the rules to make it easier to trash nature in the name of economic interests. Fortunately, this retrograde vision is not widely shared and a fight back has started. A demand to re-write Vella’s mandate has brought together all main environmental NGOs. Progressive businesses, from the cement industry to electricity grid operators, have spoken up for the directives. FACE, representing Europe’s hunters has taken a clear stand against a reopening of the nature directives during a high profile conference in Brussels. So has the German government , who has argued in a letter to President Juncker, that tampering with nature conservation rules would only harm business by creating insecurity around investments.

We hope that President Juncker and Commissioner Vella have been paying attention. BirdLife and its Partners across Europe will be there in the coming months to remind them a few basic facts: without nature, there is no economy; and whilst nature can survive without rules, conservationists, stakeholders and investors need stable laws that are properly implemented. Not conflict and uncertainty.

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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.