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ClientEarth Communications

17th March 2017

Rule of law
Access to Justice for a Greener Europe

Commission finds nature directives fit for purpose but in need of better implementation

REFIT Fitness check for the Nature Directives 2009/147 and 92/43, SWD(2016) 473

The Commission has made public the results of its fitness check for the two nature directives on birds (Directive 2009/147) and habitats and species (Directive 92/43). It has found them to be fit for purpose but in need of better implementation. The Commission's fitness checks serve to examine whether directives are still relevant or should be amended, in particular in view of deregulation, and continue to be acceptable to economic operators. Ludwig Kramer comments.

The consultation on the two directives attracted 552,000 comments. The results of the check are not approved by the Commission as such, but have been made public in a working document of the Commission services (SWD). This means that the Commission may, at any moment, propose that the nature directives be deregulated, in part or in full. It is known that some groups of economic operators and of national (regional) authorities press for a revision of the two Directives.

The REFIT fitness check was initiated in 2015 by the Juncker Commission. The check examined the achievements of the two directives according to criteria of effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, coherence and added value. The conclusions reached were the following:

Effectiveness: "The evaluation showed that the general objectives of the Directives have not yet been met and it is not possible to predict when they will be fully achieved. However, it is clear that the status and trend of bird species as well as other species and habitats would be significantly worse in their absence and improvements in the status of species and habitats are taking place where there are targeted actions at a sufficient scale".

Efficiency: the fitness check examined whether the costs involved in implementation were reasonable and in proportion to the benefits achieved. "Compliance costs of designating, protecting and managing Natura 2000 sites have been estimated to be at least 5.8 billion euro annually across the EU. Only a qualitative assessment of opportunity costs was possible, showing that the Directives do not create barriers to investments that are sustainable and not damaging to the conservation values of the sites... The multiple benefits of the directives, estimated at 200-300 billion euro per year, significantly exceed identified costs".

Relevance: "Evidence shows that the Directives continue to be relevant for tackling the key pressures on habitats and species".
Coherence: "The Nature Directives are coherent with each other but there is continued need to promote implementation solutions that optimise the attainment of their conservation objectives.. The Nature Directives and the EU Biodiversity Strategy constitute an integrated and fully coherent policy approach", also with relevant international conventions on biodiversity that apply within the EU.. "Other sectoral EU policies have sometimes competing objectives. Given the continuing decline of species and habitats associated with agriculture, greater efforts are needed to conserve and enhance biodiversity through more effective integration with the common agricultural policy".

Added value: "There is broad recognition that the Directives have established a stronger and more consistent basis for protecting nature than existed in Europe before their adoption. The needs and rationale for EU level action through the Nature Directives remain valid".

Commission on nature directives: fit for purpose but implementation must be improved

The overall conclusion was that "within the framework of broader biodiversity policy, the Nature Directives are fit for purpose, but fully achieving their objectives and realising their full potential will depend on substantive improvement in their implementation in relation to both effectiveness and efficiency".

In the Council meeting of 19 December 2016 the commission announced the adoption of an action plan to address the implementation deficit of the two Directives.