Nature Alert signatures handed over to EU Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella (birdlife.org)

On 20 November 2015, the conference on the Fitness Check for EU Nature Legislation took place in Brussels. This was part of the second stage of the process undertaken by the EU Commission to evaluate whether the current laws are ‘proportionate’ and ‘fit for purpose’, specifically in relation to the Birds Directive 1979 and the Habitats Directive 1992.

It is estimated that the annual costs to maintain the Natura 2000 network, which consists of sites designated as protected under the Nature Directives, is in the region of € 5.8 billion annually. However, this is diminutive in comparison with the estimated € 50 billion a year cost of not reaching the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy (2011) targets to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems [1]. It is also estimated that the Natura 2000 network actually maintains services that have the equivalent cost of € 200 – 300 billion annually, were they not provided by these sites [2]. These services, also classed as natural capital, include flood mitigation, water purification, carbon storage and pollination.

The EU Commission produced a mandate in early 2014 after it had reviewed EU Nature laws and made the decision to pursue a ‘fitness check’ under the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). The mandate defined the scope and aim of the REFIT. This considered in particular the criteria of: ‘Effectiveness’, ‘Efficiency’, ‘Coherence’, ‘Relevance’, and ‘EU added value’ (i.e could similar changes be made at a national level in an as effective manner?) when examining the policy area’s implementation.

This was followed by an evidence-gathering consultation phase, ending in July 2015, which included public consultation, engagement with Member States, and consultation with stakeholder groups such as NGOs. This yielded a record 500,000 public responses in favour of retaining the Nature Directives as they are, calling for better implementation instead of renegotiation.

There were fears that, should the EU Commission have found reason to renegotiate the Directives, a deregulation of biodiversity law would occur and cause a regression in EU environmental policy. However, it seems the general consensus at the conference was that the Directives should not be reopened and that, as asserted in the Birdlife and WWF Briefing Document on the REFIT, the Nature Directives are ‘fit for purpose and in need of action’ [3]. Instead, the focus of discussion was centred on better implementation and how this could be achieved.

The importance of the Effective Nature Laws project is highlighted by the focus in the conference on implementation rather than revision, which specifically examines how biodiversity governance rules could be designed in order to improve compliance.

The Commission’s final report based on the results of the Fitness Check is due to be published in May – June 2016. This will be the basis for future policy-making decisions regarding nature law in the future.

More Information:

[1] DG Environment, European Commission, The costs of not implementing the environmental acquis, September 2011, Final report ENV.G.1/FRA/2006/0073.

[2] Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, The Mid –term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, SWD (2015) 187 final, 3. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52015DC0478&from=EN.

[3] ‘Nature Legislation’, 1. http://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/wwf_5020_ngo_policiypaper_final_print.pdf