MEPs oppose possible revision of EU Nature legislation
Against the background of the currently ongoing fitness check of the Birds and Habitats Directives, in their resolution on the mid-term review of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) speak out against a possible revision of both Directives.

The MEPs are concerned that it would bring a protracted period of legal uncertainty and a weakened legislative protection and financing. Emphasis should be on improving implementation, according to the resolution.

The European Parliament resolution comes ahead of the publication of the final Commission report on the REFIT process of the Birds and Habitats Directives in format of a Staff Working Document, expected to be released in May 2016. Under its Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT) the European Commission is assessing whether the EU nature legislation is fit for purpose. The performance against five key criteria, namely effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance, and EU-added value, ultimately determines the need for revising both directives.

While the initial mandate was issued early 2014, the REFIT process commenced properly in January 2015 with an evidence gathering and consultation of all Member States and key stakeholder groups. End of April 2015 the Commission started a 12-week public internet consultation. More than 550 000 contributions, the largest-ever response to any Commission consultation, were submitted. However, more than 90% were generated by an automatic-response online system, set up by environmental NGOs, providing a clearly skewed picture of how the EU nature directives are perceived by the public.

On 20 November 2015, the Commission invited for a high-level conference where the preliminary conclusions emerging from the assessment of evidence and information gathered were presented and discussed. In this context, CEPF released a position paper, inter alia, calling for

•    a transparent, coherent and consistent implementation of the nature legislation across the EU;
•    good governance acknowledging property and ownership rights, as well as the time lag for measures aimed at enhancing biodiversity;
•    ensuring the involvement of concerned landowners, managers and their organisations at all stages of the designation, implementation and management of the Natura 2000 network;
•    an adaptation of the Annexes of the Directives, sustaining an appropriate long-term perspective, and catering for more flexible and viable solutions to implementing the EU nature legislation.

For further details, please refer to the attached CEPF position paper. The conference clearly indicated the shortcomings of the directives, particularly when it comes to the implementation thereof. Even though this is mainly the responsibility of the Member States and the competent authorities, there is clear evidence that there are still gaps hampering its successful implementation. Consequently, the CEPF Board decided in December 2015 to not only call for revising the Annexes of the Directives, but also to adapt the main text of the EU nature legislation, catering for more flexible and viable solutions to implementing the EU nature legislation.

In this context, the German alliance ‘Forum Natur’ commissioned a legal and science-based report, assessing which concrete amendments could contribute to a better, more coherent and consistent implementation of the Directives (for more information, please refer to the full report below).

The CEPF Secretariat expects that this topic will continue to be high on the agenda, as the above-mentioned Staff Working Document (SWD) will serve as a basis for further political discussions. The SWD will entail only a reflection of the current status without any recommendations, according to a Commission representative at a recent event.