Europe and Central Asia
8 Sep 2015

Citizens speak up: Don’t mess with the Nature Directives, implement them!

520,325 citizens called on the European Commission to protect environmental laws. Photo: Darren/Flickr
By Ariel Brunner

Earlier this year, the European Commission was considering changing the Birds and Habitats Directives – the major piece of environmental legislation that protects wildlife and nature in Europe. They called it a ‘fitness check’ and invited public opinion on the measure. We know that powerful interests are seeking to destroy nature conservation in the EU by applying political pressure, regardless of any real evidence.

In response, BirdLife Europe, WWF, the European Environmental Bureau and Friends of the Earth Europe launched a Europe-wide public mobilisation around the check. We gathered a massive body of evidence demonstrating that the Nature Directives are highly effective where implemented and that continued biodiversity loss is mainly due to lax enforcement of the legislation rather than to the legislation being poorly written (find our response to the Commission questionnaire here).

We also set up Naturealert.Eu, an e-action to help common citizens bring their voice to the Commission against the dismantling of the directives. At the end of July, when the Commission closed the public consultation phase, public response was overwhelming and clear: 520.325 citizens (about 94% of the people who participated in the consultation), from EU Member States and beyond, took the opportunity to add their voice to ours, and answered our call in the biggest ever response to a Commission public consultation exercise.

This shows that the Directives have massive popular support across the EU and citizens do not want them tampered with. Instead, they want them fully implemented and enforced.

It is interesting to note that almost 20% of the responses came from the UK, showing that the EU role in nature conservation excites real passion in the Member State most often mentioned for its lack of public support for the EU, and which is about to run a referendum on the future of EU membership. Also worth noting is that anti-directives campaigns, notably by an alliance of farming unions, forest and land owners, and hunters in Germany largely failed to mobilise public opinion: Only around 2% of responses came from them and their supporters in favour of rewriting the directives.

The Commission’s first-Vice President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for the Environment Karmenu Vella welcomed the response:

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"We're very grateful for the active participation and degree of engagement with our consultation. We'll bear all the input received in mind as the Fitness Check continues. As we have said many times before, this exercise is about making sure that legislation that was introduced a generation ago remains fit for purpose for the next generation. This includes looking at issues of implementation and enforcement. This is about finding the best way to keep our standards to protect birds and other wildlife high, and making sure they are effectively applied, not about weakening them."

In the coming months, we’ll keep watching closely, hoping they have indeed heard the loud and clear voice of European citizens. It is now up to Commissioner Vella and Vice President Timmermans to show that they have listened to the people they represent. We will make sure they deliver on their promise. 

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.