From Rome with Love
This article is the editorial for the March edition of the BirdLife Europe & Central Asia Newsletter. To read our newsletter, click here.
Philosophers and psychologists say that there are only two things that no human being will ever be able to remember: no one remembers dying, no one remembers being born. As with any other human being, I do not remember being born. But I know it happened in a city that, after having dominated Europe (and parts of Africa and the Middle East) for centuries with the strength of its army, was given the chance to be associated for the coming centuries with a dream of peace, Our eyes (and my heart) turn to Rome this week to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, when our grandparents and their parents laid the foundation stones of the European Union, a project that has kept us peaceful and prosperous for these many decades. Europe today means freedom – freedom to live the life one wishes, where one's rights are secured and protected – where people, goods and services move freely – where the very air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we toil are protected by the globe's most progressive laws, standards and practices across the continent we love.
Yet somehow these singular accomplishments are taken for granted, obscured by the anxieties some of our politicians try to exploit. These cynical forces deform by their blatantly false characterisations those achievements which we should gratefully celebrate. In a bit of cruel irony, it is the quintessentially English humourists Monty Python who hit the nail on the head in their classic film ‘The Life of Brian’ asking “What have the Romans ever done for us?” When someone asks, ‘What has the EU ever done for us?’, a quick look and a laugh at this video excerpt is a good place to start!
As people and citizens who spend our lives working to secure our natural heritage, and all the flora and fauna with whom we share it, we have a particular appreciation for what the EU, has done for us and for nature. Most of us know implicitly that, as John Donne's famous poem has it:
No man is an island, Entire of itself
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main
This is the very essence of the work we do. All is interconnected, birds and other species migrate across our self-important borders and cross continents and show us that only by treasuring and respecting this interconnectedness can we thrive.
The European Union is first and foremost about shared values. Joining this project means acknowledging and committing to them. These shared values have enabled the establishment of the Natura 2000 network, the largest coordinated set of protected areas in the world, 18% of our land and 6% of our seas. Environmental protection is at the heart of the European project and countries aspiring to join it must submit proposals for their own sites. For example, as Montenegro advances its EU candidacy it points to its protection of the iconic Ulcinj Salina salt pans as evidence of its acceptance of these shared principles. When Malta joined the EU, it was required to stop finch trapping as just one of the conditions of membership. These seemingly small, incremental but not inconsequential, steps together form a mosaic of the shared engagement we make in securing our sustainable future.
Pigeon over the Roman forum (c) Natalie Kennedy
Our Birds & Habitats Directives, those EU-wide laws which conserve natural habitats and wild flora and fauna, are some of the planet's most visionary tools to save the globe and ensure a sustainable future. And equally important to remember is that for many, the European Union is a beacon – an example of a way forward. Specifically in nature, the Natura 2000 network has inspired the creation of the Emerald Network. Under the auspices of the Bern Convention, launched in 1998, these protected areas of special conservation interest stretch across almost 60 countries with an impact far beyond the EU’s 28 member states.
Of course, as any project, the EU can always be improved, but that can only be done through the positive engagement of all those who, like us, work every day to create a better world for all living species. At BirdLife we criticize the EU for laws and policies that have a negative impact on our natural capital, true. The Common Agricultural Policy, for example, is one of our main targets as it has flaws and needs to be fixed. But we do it by engaging in the debate and in the European Commission’s consultation with our science, our policy proposals and our fantastic network of supporters. You can join this debate and help us through the Living Land platform.
We believe the shaping of the future of Europe (including also countries who are not part of the project) based on our values is definitely one of our responsibilities,
It is also in line with the essence of BirdLife. We too are a partnership, a group of diverse people and organizations, global in outlook, local in practice, who share common values. We believe in cooperation and dialogue. We believe that our planet and the natural resources upon it are a precious heritage which must be protected to ensure our children's and our civilisation’s future. These are the reasons why, while working across the entire European and Central Asian region, at BirdLife Europe we have accepted the challenge to dedicate additional time and energy to contribute to the further evolution of the project that some visionary leaders courageously and innovatively advanced sixty years ago in Rome.
Angelo Caserta is Director of BirdLife Europe & Central Asia
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.