Europe and Central Asia
12 Nov 2015

The verdict is in: Europe’s nature laws are fit for purpose

Eurasian Eagle Owl - Photo © BelgianChocolate/Flickr
By Finlay Duncan

The first findings are out from the European Commission's review of key European nature laws - and it says they deliver far more benefits than they cost.

A study carried out by international experts for the Commission has published its initial findings of the Fitness Check, or ‘REFIT’, process on the Birds and Habitats Directives.

It’s feared the laws, also known as the Nature Directives, could be re-opened, merged or weakened as part of President Jean Claude Juncker and vice-President Timmermans’ drive for ‘better regulation’.

But the evaluation study, compiled by a panel of technical experts, has found no reason for merging the directives and says they are also coherent with other EU policies and laws.

Further, it spells out the huge benefits provided by the laws when compared with how much they cost. The Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which the laws are responsible for, costs an estimated 5.8 billion EUR per year, but generates benefits in ecosystem services running to 200-300 billion EUR per year and a further 50-85 billion EUR per year for local economies. Overall, the directives make positive contributions to sustainable development and allow economic development which is compatible with maintaining biodiversity.

Ariel Brunner, BirdLife Europe Senior Head of Policy, said: “The Fitness Check evidence is crystal clear - the Birds and Habitat Directives are fit for purpose and there is no case for ‘merging and modernising’ them.

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“The evidence also clearly shows where the real problems lie: poor and uneven enforcement, lack of funding and the impact of perverse policies such as the CAP.”

While the evidence gives no support whatsoever for a need to “merge and modernise” the directives, it highlights how enforcement must be strengthened and for EU policies that are still driving biodiversity loss to be dealt with.

Today’s publications come just a week ahead of a crucial event on the Fitness Check process. Conservationists, politicians and representatives of the EU institutions will come together on Friday 20th November for a conference on the Nature Directives in Brussels, hosted by EU Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella.

The 'Emerging Findings' report has been prepared by a consortium led by Milieu Ltd,  and also comprised of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEЕР), ICF  International and Ecosystems Ltd. for the European Commission’s Directorate General Environment. It is available to view here.

A separate report on the public consultation on the Nature Directives is available to view 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.