Europe and Central Asia
26 Jan 2015

Nature in 2015: dead or alive? What a difference Mr Timmermans can make

By Luca Bonaccorsi

If you are reading this op-ed is because you care about nature. And since you do, you have probably asked yourself in the past few weeks: what should I expect from 2015?  Is it going to be a good or a bad year for us, for birds, for biodiversity and, ultimately, for nature on the only planet, that we know of, hosting such an amazing variety of life forms.

We have tried to answer this question in our newsletter, in its new format.

The “scary” part is that 2015 will be a crucial year for the future of the Planet since many fundamental decisions, with long term implications, will be taken in the next 12 months. Ariel Brunner, referring to EU politics, rightly calls it the “last chance saloon Commission”. But the message could easily be broadened to the overall condition and perspective for the planet, if we consider that this is the year of the Paris Summit on Climate Change. 

So, 2015: dead or alive? The answer is: it depends. 

Of course all hearts are already looking at the UN summit in December, but a lot will happen in the run up to the COP 21. The European Union is defining the set of tools to decarbonise its economy and making it sustainable, but some of the solutions are proving to be nearly as bad as the problem: Sini Erajaa explains the disastrous impact on nature that some of our “clean energy” might produce, and the relevant moments in the quest for sustainable renewables in the fight against climate change.

In 2015 the EU will also be taking crucial decisions for the health of its seas, currently on the verge of collapse. Bruna Campos explains the importance of the Baltic multiannual plan, which will set a precedent for all other regional seas plans.

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This is also the year that will show what a failure the greening of EU agricultural policy was. Trees Robijns explains how and when it will be evident that the greening does not deliver and that current policies can only continue obliterating life in farmland.

For us however 2015 is, first and foremost, the year of the Fitness check for the Birds and Habitats Directives which are the nature protection laws in the EU and a reference also for non-EU protected areas like those included in the Emerald network. Will they be reviewed or butchered? Wouter Langhout explains why this will be the moment when the enemies of nature conservation will wake up and will seek to weaken the legislation for their narrow interests, to the detriment of Europe’s citizens. By June we will also publish our mid-term assessment of the EU Biodiversity strategy: not a lot of good news in store.

We will be producing a lot of science during the year. Among the most relevant, the third assessment of European birds populationsWillem Van Den Bossche explains. In 1994, 38% of the species were considered to be in an unfavourable condition. By 2004, this figure had increased to 43%. The 2015 assessment will measure the progress towards the European Union’s target to increase by 50% the proportion of species in a secure or improving condition by 2020. We will also publish figures on illegal killing, trapping and trade of wild birds in the Mediterranean. This scientific review is the first comprehensive quantitative Pan-Mediterranean situation analysis of this kind and will serve as a basis for setting conservation priorities, advancing a clear advocacy agenda.

So, 2015… a year full of crucial decisions. Unfortunately all these decisions will be taken in the context of a new season of “deregulation” directly resurrected from a jurassic and ideological vision of development that sacrifices nature and people’s health to short term economic gains. That is why our “cover” is dedicated to the ex-ante man of the year: Vice President Timmermans. 

The charming, multi-lingual right arm of president Juncker is a socialist and nature lover at home in the Netherlands, and Juncker’s executioner of nature protection laws in Brussels: a contradiction that will certainly emerge in the media and in the political circles. Timmermans has tried to withdraw the plastic bag regulation only to be defeated by the Council under the Italian presidency. He has then tried to cancel the clean air and the waste laws, just to realise that he had no no majority to support those decisions in Parliament, and therefore retreated into keeping the air quality measure and promising to come back later in the year with an even stronger waste package. 

Overall these can be seen as victories of the environmental movement and a clear political message to Juncker: the majority of Europeans do not want to weaken environmental laws. 

The only tangible political results he has obtained so far seems to be the growing discontent in the S&D political group (his own, as a matter of fact): most members of the socialist family cannot recognise themselves in Juncker’s agenda, and a widespread feeling of “betrayal” towards mr. Timmermans might soon reach the higher floors at Berlaymont. 

Timmermans role really is crucial to EU environmental policies, and this will inevitably influence similar battles elsewhere in Europe. Will we have better regulation or nature destruction? Dr. Jekyll or mr. Hyde? We are about to find out.  ​

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.