What the EU Commission officially decided on the EU Nature Directives | WWF

What the EU Commission officially decided on the EU Nature Directives

Posted on 20 December 2016
Flooded marshland in the middle of Biebrza Marshes, Poland
© Fred F. Hazelhoff/ WWF
On Friday 16 December, the Commission published its conclusions (Staff Working Document) on the 'Fitness Check' evaluation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, confirming that they were “fit for purpose” to protect Europe’s nature. This ends almost three years of uncertainty over the laws’ future and prepares the basis for much needed improvements.
In its Staff Working Document, the European Commission also acknowledged that “full achievement of the objectives of the Nature Directives will depend on substantial improvement in their implementation in close partnership with local authorities and different stakeholders in the Member States to deliver practical results on the ground for nature, people and the economy in the EU.”
WWF strongly welcomes this decision and calls on the Commission to quickly present an Action Plan to better implement and enforce the Nature Directives and tackle the drivers of nature loss. All evidence gathered during the last years confirmed that much of Europe’s biodiversity is still in decline due to the poor national implementation of the Nature Directives as well as unsustainable agriculture and infrastructure development.
The Commission has underlined some key benefits of the EU Nature Directives and identified challenges that will have to be properly addressed in the near future:
  • The Directives remain highly relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of species and habitats, for the environment, people and the economy, and as an essential component of EU Biodiversity Policy. 
  • There are still gaps in the Natura 2000 network- especially for the offshore marine environment, but the most significant shortcomings are the failure to put in place the necessary conservation measures for the sites, and well as in recognising the value of safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem services within and outside of the Natura 2000 network. Effectiveness has been constrained by the lack of and insufficient targeting of funding, limited stakeholder awareness and cooperation, and gaps in knowledge.
  • The evidence indicates that the Annexes in their current form provide an adequate level of protection to enable the objectives of the Directives to be met.
  • Overall, the efficiency analysis shows a very low cost-to-benefit ratio which points to the conclusion that investing in Natura 2000 makes good economic sense, with potential for significant job creation.
  • The evidence strongly indicates that the achievement of the objectives of the Directives requires a significant effort, both in terms of better use of available funding at EU and national level and increase total resources allocated to it.
  • There is a growing body of good practice to ensure smart implementation approaches. The most frequently cited examples refer to strong participation, consultation and stakeholder engagement; transparent and accessible strategic planning approaches to manage conservation and other land uses; provision of guidance to stakeholders affected by the Directives. 
  • There is a need better coherence with other EU policies, including more effective integration with the Common Agriculture Policy since agriculture and forestry have the most important influence on terrestrial biodiversity in the EU.
  • EU action has added value in terms of creating a more consistent, fair and integrated approach to nature conservation and delivery of ecosystem services across the EU.