European Commission’s ‘fitness check’ process should result in enhanced implementation of EU nature legislation

In a position paper on the European Commission’s ‘Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme’ REFIT of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, which form the backbone of European nature conservation action, IUCN supports the scientific and evidence-based assessment of policy and legislation, and calls for the process to result in enhanced implementation of the EU’s nature directives.

Wolves Photo: Johannes Jansson/

The position is the result of an intense process of consultation with IUCN National Committees and its Scientific Commissions in Europe.

“The EU Nature Directives have delivered demonstrable positive results. They have contributed to improving the conservation status of many of the species and habitats they aim to protect, such as wolves, white tailed eagles and beavers, which have all seen a comeback in recent years,” said Luc Bas, Director of the IUCN European Regional Office in Brussels. “However, despite the positive conservation impacts of the legislation, implementation and monitoring are currently incomplete and sub-optimal. Redoubling action on the ground is crucial and available resources should focus on both implementation and complementary conservation efforts to safeguard key biodiversity areas beyond the Natura 2000 network, so that biodiversity targets can be met.”

IUCN emphasises that changes to the Directives should not be considered at this time as this would distract from the all-important focus on stronger implementation. The organisation calls on the EU and its Member States to focus efforts on the full implementation of the EU Nature Directives, by accelerating the designation of marine Natura 2000 sites and substantially improving site management. IUCN also emphasises that for the EU Nature Directives to achieve positive biodiversity outcomes (action ‘on the ground’) it is equally important to address the underlying but very direct causes of biodiversity loss.

In 2012, the IUCN World Conservation Congress adopted a policy of ‘non-regression in environmental policy’, which urges national governments to recognise that non-regression in their environmental legislation is essential for achieving sustainable development objectives, which is the cornerstone of the IUCN position on the REFIT.

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