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Combating invasive species
There are almost 11 000 non-native species in Europe, of which 10 to 15 % are expected to have a negative economic or ecological impact. The damage caused by these species and the control measures taken are estimated as costing EUR 12 billion annually in the European Union (EU). The Commission has presented a series of options to prepare a strategy to tackle this problem – one of the major threats to biodiversity.
Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 3 December 2008 – Towards an EU strategy on invasive species [COM(2008) 789 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
Invasive species are animal or plant species that have become established in areas that are not their normal habitat and have become a threat. These non-native species may cause serious damage to ecosystems, crops, disrupt local ecology, impact human health and produce serious economic effects.
The main vectors introducing invasive species are directly or indirectly related to trade and transport. Climate change and the deterioration of natural habitats foster their spread. At present, the European Union (EU) has no specific instrument to tackle this issue.
At international level, a three-stage approach has been adopted by the Commission, which recommends measures based on:
- prevention, to limit introductions resulting from trade which, in particular, necessitates stronger border controls;
- early detection and rapid eradication which require monitoring and early warning programmes;
- control and/or confinement if the invasive species is already established, as well as the implementation of coordinated action.
The legislation in force, particularly the plant health Directive, animal health legislation and the CITES Regulation, and a number of programmes already provide instruments to tackle the threat constituted by invasive species. However, coverage of the problem is still partial and does not enable coordinated implementation to take place.
Four strategic options can be envisaged to tackle the problem of invasive species in the EU:
- business as usual: if no steps are taken, invasive species will continue to establish themselves and an increase in ecological, economic and social consequences is to be expected, as well as an increase in costs;
- maximising existing instruments and voluntary measures: legal requirements would remain unchanged but stakeholders would consciously choose to tackle the problem of invasive species under the legislation in force. The Commission stresses however that the level of response may vary considerably from one Member State to another;
- adapted existing legislation: a similar option to the above, but including the amendment of existing legislation on plant/animal health to cover a broader range of potentially invasive species;
- the creation of a specific Community instrument: this option would in particular include an obligation for Member States to carry out border controls and to exchange information on invasive species. The Commission considers that this option would be the most effective.
Several horizontal issues related to invasive species should also be tackled. It is therefore important to build a sense of responsibility amongst citizens, authorities and industries with regard to the problem, to intensify research in order to gain a better understanding of the risks and to undertake bilateral action with third countries, in particular under development policy.
Combating invasive species forms part of the Action Plan for biodiversity which recognises the necessity to prepare a comprehensive strategy at EU level to reduce their impact on biological diversity in Europe. The Commission intends to present such a proposal in 2010.