European Commission deems EU Nature Directives “fit for purpose” – now it is time to make them “fit for the ground”
On Friday 16 December the Commission published its final report on the fitness check of the Birds and Habitats Directives in the format of a Staff Working Document (SWD) with the conclusions that they are “fit for purpose”. However, it has been recognised that a substantial improvement in their implementation is needed.

CEPF views the outcomes of the fitness check a missed opportunity to adapt the Annexes of the EU Nature Directives, sustaining an appropriate long-term perspective, and catering for more flexible and viable solutions to implementing the EU nature legislation.

Going forward, it is crucial to follow the process and development of the Commission’s action plan to tackle implementation and ensure concrete improvements. As the Commission deems the Directives “fit for purpose”, now is the time to ensure that they are “fit for the ground”.

Problems due to lack of adequate investment and lack of stakeholder involvement have rightfully been recognised and have now to be improved in the best possible way. CEPF highlights the importance of forest owners and managers and calls for their involvement in all stages of the implementation process, as they are the ones who are managing most of the Natura 2000 network and are affected by the Nature Directives.

It must be recognised that sustainable forest management practices are a crucial prerequisite for maintaining and enhancing habitats and biodiversity. The socio-economic importance of forests and forestry must be taken into account and there is a need for better balancing the different economic, social and environmental dimensions.

The announcement to not open the Nature Directives came after an orientation debate on 7 December, where EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella said: “Our European Commission 'fitness check' has recognised that the European Birds and Habitats Directives remain relevant and fit for purpose. They will not be 'opened'. Our focus will now be on making sure that they are implemented in the most effective and efficient way to realise their full potential for nature, people and the economy.”

With regard to the evaluation and REFIT report of the consultants, which already outlined the gaps and needs for improvements, the Commission announced to develop an action plan to tackle implementation. The following challenges and problems referred to implementation have been emphasized:

  • lack of adequate investment in the Natura 2000 network of protected sites
  • local deficiencies such as delays, unnecessary burdens for project permits and lack of adequate different assessments in regulating individual species
  • lack of stakeholder involvement

The action plan will contain a series of concrete measures such as holding regular meetings with mayors and other local authorities to find out where the implementation challenges lie and help Member States take the necessary corrective action. The plan will be designed in partnership with Member States and relevant stakeholders. The plan also foresees to develop appropriate implementation guidelines for regional actors, reducing unnecessary burdens and litigation, and incentivising national and regional investment in biodiversity.

For more information on CEPF’s position on the Fitness Check of the Nature Directives, please see our position paper below.

Please find the Commission Staff Working Document on the Fitness Check of the EU Nature Legislation here.