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IP/09/1651

Brussels, 29 October 2009

Environment: Commission warns Poland and Bulgaria over nature protection shortcomings; closes German case

The European Commission is pursuing legal action against Poland and Bulgaria for failing to adequately assess the impact of construction projects on protected nature areas. The Commission is also closing a long-running case against Germany on the designation of special bird protection sites.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Natura 2000 – Europe's network of protected areas – is crucial to the long-term survival of our most valuable and threatened species and habitats. The network gives us healthy ecosystems, which supply vital services such as air and water purification. Whenever sites are affected, it is essential to prevent or reduce any impacts, and I call on Poland and Bulgaria to do so. I also welcome the closure of the case against Germany concerning areas protected under the Birds Directive: this confirms that progress is being made towards completion of the Natura 2000 network."

First warning to Poland over express road cutting through Natura 2000 sites

The Commission has sent a first written warning letter to Poland for breaching nature protection laws by approving and almost completing an express road that cuts through four Natura 2000 sites. The Commission considers as clearly inadequate the original impact assessments for the Szczecin - Gorzów section of the S3 expressway, on which the authorisation of the project was based. Additional detailed assessments carried out after the construction works started also concluded that there were no significant effects on the Natura 2000 sites. However, this goes against factual evidence that priority forest habitats would be destroyed in several locations in Natura 2000 sites and bird habitats compromised in another site. The Commission considers that by authorising and partially executing the project, Poland has breached the Habitats Directive. It is therefore sending a first written warning.

First written warning to Bulgaria over systematic breach of nature protection law

The European Commission is sending a first written warning to Bulgaria for systematic failure to provide adequate protection for its bird sites. The Commission has received a number of complaints about on-going tourist, urban infrastructure and wind farm developments in different areas for bird protection throughout Bulgaria. The Commission believes that Bulgaria is systematically violating its obligations to safeguard areas eligible for protection under the Birds Directive and to properly assess the cumulative effects of the numerous authorised plans and projects on the environment and on bird habitats and species. Bulgaria has two months to respond.

Commission closes German case on designation of special protection areas

Germany’s designation of additional bird protection areas has enabled the Commission to close a long-running case against the country for violation of nature protection legislation. In 2001 the Commission sent Germany a first warning letter for failing to designate a sufficient number and size of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. In 2006, a second and final warning letter was sent because the designation was still insufficient in nine Länder. Since 2006, Germany has submitted more than 12,000 km² of additional site designations and enlargements of existing sites. The Commission has therefore decided to close the case.

EU nature legislation

Europe's nature is protected by two key pieces of legislation, the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. Under the Birds Directive, Member States must designate all of the most suitable sites as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to conserve wild bird species. To assess whether Member States have complied with their obligation to classify SPAs, the Commission uses the best available ornithological information.

The Habitats Directive requires Member States to designate Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) for the conservation of natural habitat types, and to protect various listed species. Together, SPAs and SCIs form the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, the EU's most important instrument for conserving natural habitats and the animal and plant species they contain.

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 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:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/legal/implementation_en.htm


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