Brussels, 8 October 2009
Environment: Romania in the dock for failing to protect wild birds
The European Commission is bringing Romania before the European Court of Justice for its repeated failure to provide adequate protection for wild birds. When Romania joined the Union in 2007, it was obliged to designate a number of areas to protect birds, but the legislative process has been slow, and although some progress has been made, Romania has still not delivered on a number of commitments regarding nature conservation. The country is home to 12 species that are globally threatened. Over one million hectares initially pencilled in for protection have still not received the legal designation they require. As warning letters have not had the desired effect, the Commission has decided to take even stronger measures and bring the country to court.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Birds are a barometer for biodiversity – so adequate protection of their habitats is vital. Biodiversity is a precious resource, and we squander it at our peril. I therefore urge Romania to make good these shortcomings and bring in the necessary protection immediately."
Previous warnings unheeded
Romania is home to many bird species, and the Danube Delta alone hosts more than 320 bird species. But the country is failing in its obligation to classify a sufficient number of protected areas (known as Special Protection Areas, or SPAs) for wild birds, an obligation under the Birds Directive, one of the centrepieces of European nature protection legislation. According to the European Treaty, repeated failures to comply with European legislation can land a Member State in court.
A first written warning was sent in October 2007, as no Special Protection Areas had been designated at that time. Romania subsequently designated 108 SPAs, but 21 other areas initially scheduled for protection were passed over. In addition, a number of these SPAs are much smaller than they need to be, and some 30% of the original areas (totalling over one million hectares) identified as areas important for birds are not currently protected.
The Commission sent Romania a second and final written warning in September 2008. Romania has made no formal commitment in reply and has still to complete the designation of protected areas. It is therefore being called before the European Court of Justice.
Special protection areas and special areas of conservation
Europe's nature is protected by two key pieces of legislation, the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. Under the Birds Directive, Member States are obliged to designate suitable sites as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for the conservation of wild birds. The designation of SPAs must be based on objective, verifiable scientific criteria.
Under the Habitats Directive, Member States draw up a list of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) on their territory that can make a significant contribution to preserving Europe's valuable habitat types and species. Once these sites are put on a Community list Member States then have six years to bring in domestic legislation turning the SCIs into properly managed Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). Taken together, SPAs and SACs form the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which is the EU's most important instrument for conserving natural habitats and the animal and plant species they contain.
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 within a specified period, usually within 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, normally two months.
If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European 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.
For current statistics on infringements in general see: