17 March 2017
Court of Auditors: Special Report 2017/01 of 21 January 2017
The Court of Auditors published a report on the implementation of the Birds and Habitats directives. The report is limited to habitats (species protection is hardly touched upon) and concentrates on three questions: are the habitats well managed? Are the measures envisaged well financed? Are the monitoring plans of the different sites adequate? The auditing report found deficiencies and gaps in each of the three areas. Ludwig Kramer comments.
As regards the management of the sites, the Court of Auditors discovered a considerable lack of coordination between the different administrations, in particular the environmental and agricultural administrations. Projects which might have an impact on a habitat were not well coordinated between the different administrations. Conservation measures were frequently delayed. Only about one third of the habitats which had been declared by the EU Commission as special areas of conservation also had been designated at national level as such. And in only about half of the habitats, management plans existed. The Commission had issued a number of guidance documents concerning management; however, these guidance documents were insufficiently spread and used, possibly also due to linguistic barriers.
The Commission had estimated the funding needs for the Natura 2000 network at 5.8 billion euro per year, with about 20 per cent of this sum stemmed from EU funding. There lacked, though, reliable data as regards the intervention of the structural funds; their intervention depended on specific decisions by Member States and was not in the hands of the EU. The prioritised action framework (PAF) which had been developed since 2012 did not give a complete picture of financing needs and availabilities, and also the management plans did not contain a complete cost assessment. 17 of the 28 Member States indicated that there was a gap between financing needs and available funds.
Monitoring of the different habitats was often inadequate. The monitoring plans, where they existed, were too often general and lacked indicators, quantified targets and milestones. 15 out of the 28 Member States reported that they regularly monitored the habitats. The present situation made it difficult to obtain a full, reliable picture of the state of the natural environment.
The Court of Auditors made a number of recommendations to the Member States and to the Commission. In its answer, the Commission accepted all of them, but stressed the limited personal and financial resources.