The need for a strong EU legislation on Invasive Alien Species

23 January 2014 | News story

Representatives of the European Union, environmental NGO’s, scientists and other stakeholders discussed the European Commission’s proposal for an EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species at a high-level event organized by MEP Pavel Poc, IUCN Brussels, BirdLife Europe and the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, on 20 January.  

The European Commission issued its proposal for an EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species in September 2013 after long internal deliberations, paving the way for better and more coordinated action to address this threat in Europe. Much effort has already been put into the further development of the proposed Regulation and discussions by the Members of the European Parliament and the European Council are now intensifying. This event offered an extra platform for exchange on various aspects of the proposal before the vote in the Environment Committee on 30 January and the vote in plenary currently scheduled in mid March.

In his keynote speech, Janez Potočnik, Commissioner for the Environment, European Commission, stated: "Overall, invasive species are the second most important threat to our biodiversity after habitat loss. This situation is set to get worse as invasive species spread and new ones continue to enter EU territory. If we don't tackle the issue now, the costs of dealing with this will rise significantly, and biodiversity will be irreparably damaged. That's why we have made combating invasive species one of the six targets of our Biodiversity Strategy for 2020.”

Luc Bas, Director of IUCN EU Representative Office, in his opening statement emphasised that: “IUCN sincerely hopes that the EU Member States and the European Parliament will reach agreement in this legislature on a strong and effective legislative instrument that paves the way for immediate action to protect the EU against the devastating impact of IAS to biodiversity.”

Pia Bucella, Director, Directorate Natural Capital, DG Environment, European Commission, explained the basic principles of the proposal and its foreseen measures. MEP Rapporteur Pavel Poc, presented his report which aims at strengthening the proposal, addressing the concerns raised by it, and making future action effective and feasible. Petros Varelidis, Environment Attaché, Permanent Representation of Greece to the European Union, discussed the Greek presidency’s future resolutions and plans regarding the issue of IAS, confirming the overall broad consensus for the proposal.

As mentioned in the Joint Call coordinated by IUCN, BirdLife Europe and Neobiota, the scientific community calls for a more science-based approach to tackle invasive alien species in Europe. Piero Genovesi, Chair IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group and Senior Scientist at ISPRA, spoke at the event and provided an overview of the scientific rationale for a policy on invasive species, and gave suggestions on how this could be included in the proposal. It is of fundamental importance to have a policy that adapts to a changing subject, and this is why the scientific community is very pleased about the possibility of removing the 50 cap species from the list.

During the second part of the event, the panel discussions, the speakers representing the three levels of governance of the European Union, scientists and environmental NGOs, discussed in detail some aspects of the Regulation, such as the development of the list of invasive alien species of EU concern, the roles and competencies of the various Member States and the synergies between EU and national measures, and the need for financial resources to implement the Regulation.

Much of the discussion was raised by the possibility of including derogations for species of economic relevance in the proposal, as some Member States agree and others do not. Mr. Genovesi warned about the risk that the introduction of the possibility of derogations could undermine the strength of the legislation. In the proposal, the European Commission also suggested limiting the list of species of EU concern to only those species that are aliens across the whole territory of the Union. At the event, different stakeholders re-stressed their concern in this respect, as some damaging species might be invasive to some EU countries and native to others.

Overall, the main outcomes of the event were that the 50 species cap will most likely be removed, national actions will be encouraged as much as the ones at the EU level, and that public and scientific participation will be clearly taken into account. It is of general agreement that common action plans and collaborations among the various stakeholders and Member States are the way to make this Regulation a success.