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Commission takes legal action to improve protection of birds and habitats and halt biodiversity loss in the EU

Commission Européenne - IP/06/907   03/07/2006

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IP/06/907

Brussels, 3 July 2006

Commission takes legal action to improve protection of birds and habitats and halt biodiversity loss in the EU

Correct implementation of the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives is crucial to achieve the EU goal of halting the loss of biodiversity in Europe by 2010. Yet, a screening carried out by the European Commission has showed that a large number of Member States have not correctly implemented these two laws. The Commission has therefore launched infringement procedures against thirteen Member States over violations of the Birds Directive, and against a further eight Member States over their implementation of the Habitats Directive. These two Directives aim at ensuring a high level of protection for birds and animals, and their respective habitats throughout the EU. Unfortunately, a high number of the infringement cases opened by the European Commission for bad implementation of EU law in the area of environment, relate to these Directives. With its actions, the Commission hopes to improve significantly this situation.

"The Birds and Habitats Directives are the key tools for the conservation of the EU’s biodiversity, said Environment Commission Stavros Dimas. “Only the correct and swift implementation of these directives can halt the loss of Biodiversity by 2010: Member States must act quickly in order to ensure the proper protection of birds and habitats on their territory" Commissioner Dimas said.

Birds protection: thirteen Member States to receive first warning letter

The Commission has sent first warning letters to the following Member States: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

The 1979 Birds Directive[1] sets out measures for the protection, management and control of all species of naturally occurring birds. It also contains rules designed to protect their habitats. Member States are required to designate special protection areas for the 194 threatened species and all migratory bird species. The Directive also bans activities that directly threaten birds, such as the deliberate killing or capture of birds, the destruction of their nests and taking of their eggs, and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds (with a few well justified exceptions).

The shortcomings in the thirteen Member States‘ national laws vary from one country to another. For example, the national legislation does not ensure adequate protection for bird eggs or young birds. Or the circumstances under which hunting is permitted do not fulfil the conditions set out in the Directive; or the measures designed to ensure habitats protection are insufficient.

Protection of wild flora and fauna and their habitats: eight Member States to receive first warning letter for non-compliance

In relation to the Habitats Directive, the Commission has sent first warning letters to eight Member States: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia.

The Habitats Directive[2] was adopted in 1992. It extends the coverage offered by the Birds Directive to a much wider range of rare, threatened or endemic species, including around 450 animals and 500 plants. Some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation. Its objective is to promote the maintenance of biodiversity through the creation of a Europe-wide network of special conservation areas, Natura 2000, the first of its kind in the world, which represents is the EU's contribution to the worldwide network called for under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Again, the grounds for Member States’ non-compliance vary from one country to another. For example, compensatory measures are not required in case an activity or project impacts upon a special conservation area; or the legislation does not afford strict protection for certain species.

Separate nature protection cases

In addition, the Commission has taken a number of decisions on on-going cases concerning the application of the Birds and Habitats Directives in specific Member States.

The Commission has closed the case concerning the construction of the Ciudad Real airport in Spain, which had been brought on the basis that that a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) had not been undertaken for the project. Since then, an EIA has been completed for the project and a series of substantive measures to mitigate or compensate for the airport's effects on the environment have been adopted. Reconciling conservation and development is crucial for halting biodiversity loss.

The Commission has sent Greece a first written warning following a judgment of the European Court of Justice on 16 March 2006 condemning Greece for having failed to establish and implement a strict protection system for the Milos Viper (case C-518/04). The Milos Viper is an endangered species that is endemic to Greece. Greece had two months to inform the Commission on the measures adopted to comply with the judgment. This deadline has expired and the Commission has received no response from the Greek authorities.

The Commission has sent a final written warning to Ireland over its non-conformity with the Habitats Directive. Issues raised include the failure to make proper provision for decision-making on land-use and other plans that affect Natura 2000 sites; weak provisions on enforcement where damage is caused to protected habitats through illegal actions; and lack of proper provision for ensuring that clearfelling (the process where every tree is taken in a logging operation) and replanting of commercial conifer forests does not adversely affect sensitive species such as the endangered Freshwater Pearl Mussel.

In a case against Austria, the Commission has decided to send a final warning for not proposing sufficient national nature sites for the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected sites. Eleven years after Member States were obliged to provide their national lists of proposed sites for the Natura 2000 network, which is set up under the Habitats Directive, the Austrian network of proposed sites is still far from being complete. Altogether, fifteen habitat types and ten species are at present not sufficiently covered in the proposed list put forward by Austria.

On the same issue of sites designation, the Commission notes that France has reacted to a final written warning from the Commission in December 2004 by designating 87 new sites and extended 119 others in the framework of the Habitats Directive. France has also put forward proposals for 177 new zones and to extend 32 others in the context of the Birds Directive, after the ECJ had ruled in November 2002 that France had not designated enough special birds protection zones. However, in both cases, the French proposals are still being scrutinised by the Commission.

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law, and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
More information about EU nature protection policies is available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/home.htm
For current statistics on infringements in general see:

http://ec.europa.eu/secretariat_general/sgb/droit_com/index_en.htm#infractions


[1] Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds;

[2] Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora


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