The EU Nature Directives are effective, coherent, relevant and fit for purpose, but insufficient implementation remains a serious issue, and must be stepped up for the EU to meet its 2020 biodiversity targets. This was the overall message delivered by a broad and diverse range of stakeholders and government representatives in response to the European Commission’s findings on the ‘Fitness Check’ of the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives, at a high-level event in Brussels on 20 November, 2015. The audience heard from EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella and from four high-level panels which discussed the criteria used to evaluate the Directives: effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and relevance/EU added value.
The results of the public consultation on the Directives, conducted by the European Commission earlier this year, indicated the extremely high support for maintaining the EU Nature Directives, from both stakeholders and the general public.
These results were also welcomed by the overwhelming majority of speakers and audience members, who concluded that the EU Nature Directives are indeed fit for purpose. Government representatives from Luxembourg, Germany and Slovakia also emphasized that in their view, the Directives should be maintained in their current form, and the Dutch government also concluded that the Directives were fit for purpose. Luc Bas, Director of the IUCN European Regional Office, reminded participants that IUCN upholds a Union-wide resolution on non-regression in environmental legislation and thus warns about any weakening of the nature legislation.
“The weight of evidence strengthens our belief that without the Directives, the state of nature in the EU would be considerably worse than it is today,” said Commissioner Vella in his opening speech. Yet he also emphasized that implementation of the Directives was insufficient. “I believe enough time has gone by and we cannot afford further loose ends within our network – the implementation deficit must now be addressed swiftly and comprehensively.”
Mark Demesmaeker, MEP, pointed out that failure to reach the targets would come at a huge cost to European society. This view was supported by Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, who noted that in order for Europe to protect its natural capital, it will have to move towards sustainable methods of production and understand the value of investments in nature and innovation.
The lack of adequate funding for biodiversity protection was also highlighted in numerous contributions.
“Healthy ecosystems are at the heart of a smart and sustainable Europe, and essential for our well-being,” said Luc Bas, Director of IUCN’s European Regional Office. “Financing nature conservation and restoration is therefore an investment in our future, not a cost.”
Pierre Commenville from the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy presented some concrete evidence of the socio-economic benefits of nature protection: in France, every EUR 1 million invested in Natura 2000 related jobs results in the creation of 12 employments, compared with only five in other sectors such as waste or water treatment.
Many speakers raised concerns over the coherence of the EU Nature Directives with other policy sectors, emphasizing that the EU biodiversity strategy remained at odds with the priorities of other legislation, in particular the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Elsa Nickel from the German Ministry of Environment also stressed that the counterproductive effects of supporting environmentally damaging farming practices through CAP subsidies. Indeed, the IUCN European Red Lists of Threatened Species have repeatedly identified unsustainable agricultural practices as one of the main threats to biodiversity in Europe.
In his contribution, Luc Bas focused on the overwhelming European added value of the Directives, quoting strong evidence that birds do better inside the European Union than outside it, and he also emphasized the important role of the IUCN European Red List in providing scientific knowledge on biodiversity conservation in Europe. The Directives have also introduced important innovative practices in the way that protected areas are created, and Natura 2000 is now a unique and coherent network, which is based on scientific information, which has led to a significant increase of protected areas in the EU. “None of this would have happened without the Directives,” concluded Luc Bas.
Participants also agreed on the need to engage all stakeholders to achieve best results for biodiversity conservation.
“Let’s use this positive momentum and engage NGOs, businesses, local and regional authorities, scientists and policy makers to accelerate the implementation of the Directives and enhance nature in the EU,” concluded Luc Bas.