Europe and Central Asia
16 Dec 2015

A real European union emerges to back nature

The EU Council building in Brussels
By Finlay Duncan

National Environment Ministers of the EU member countries have today stood up to defend nature, calling for more money for protected areas and opposing a re-opening of the Birds and Habitats Directives.

At a meeting of the Environment Council earlier, the European Commission was told to safeguard the laws, also known as the Nature Directives, and improve their implementation – seen as the best way for the EU to meet its 2020 biodiversity goals. The Commission is currently undertaking a ‘Fitness Check’ process of the directives.

A mid-term assessment out in October highlighted that most aims of the EU Biodiversity Strategy won’t be met unless far more work is done over the next five years.

The Natura 2000 network of protected areas, set up and managed through the Birds and Habitats Directives, is seen as vital for restoring and protecting ecosystems, yet it currently only receives around 10-20% of the funding it needs to fully function.

Ministers highlighted full implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives as key to achieving the targets of the Strategy, with a special focus put on enforcement.

While falling short of an outright call to reform the deeply flawed Common Agricultural Policy, Ministers recognised the role of agriculture as a main driver of biodiversity loss.

Ariel Brunner, BirdLife Europe Senior Head of Policy, said: “Today’s council conclusions give the European Commission a clear mandate; to not waste time and energy with a destructive reopening of the Birds and Habitats Directives, but to focus on what really matters: proper enforcement and implementation, the dramatic shortfall in funding for conservation and addressing the negative impacts of agriculture.”

It comes after nine Environment Ministers (from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia and Luxembourg) wrote to Vice-President Timmermans and Commissioner Vella calling for the Birds and Habitats Directives to be protected. They were later joined by other EU Member States (Greece and Belgium wrote their own letters to the Commission, with the Netherlands and Lithuania following with the same position in the last eight days), with an equally supportive letter following from MEPs representing the seven biggest political groupings in the European Parliament.

A record number of people also took part in a public consultation on this issue in the summer. The overwhelming majority supported the Nature Alert campaign to protect the laws.

However, Ministers’ commitment to biodiversity conservation has been somewhat undermined by an agreement to limit emissions of air pollution up to 2030 in a separate deliberation made at the Council meeting.

The European Commission’s ‘Fitness Check’ process on the Birds and Habitats Directives is due to be completed early next year, with results due in April 2016.

More information on the EU’s biodiversity strategy to 2020 is available here.

Details on the Nature Alert campaign are available here

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.