Brussels, 21 June 2012
Environment: Commission urges Austria to comply with EU law on nature conservation areas
The European Commission is concerned Austria is not carrying out required appropriate assessments of certain flood protection and other water-related projects to wildlife conservation areas. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is sending a reasoned opinion to ask Austria to comply with EU law in this area. If Austria fails to do so within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.
The EU's Birds and Habitats Directives require that any projects that may have a significant effect on special areas of conservation or protection are subject to a prior assessment of their implications for the area. Nature law in the Lower Austria region (Bundesland) currently exempts renovations to flood protection projects – such as the displacement or increase of dams, broadening of flood protection measures – and other water-related administrative orders from this requirement. Article 6 of the Habitats Directive forbids such general exemptions, and insists on case-by-case examination of potential impacts to the areas concerned.
In October 2011 the Commission sent a letter of formal notice letter about this matter to the Austrian authorities. As Austria has not yet changed its position on conservation area assessments, a reasoned opinion is now being sent.
The Birds Directive, the EU’s oldest piece of nature legislation, creates a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the Union. The 1992 Habitats Directive forms a cornerstone of Europe's nature conservation policy, protecting over 1000 animals and plant species and over 200 "habitat types" such as special types of forests, meadows, and wetlands, which are of European importance. The areas protected by the Directives make up Natura 2000, the EU-wide network of protected natural areas.
Each EU Member State has designated Natura 2000 sites with the aim of assuring the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats The Natura 2000 network is comprised of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by Member States under the Habitats Directive, and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. Natura 2000 is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded: most of the land is privately owned and the emphasis is on ensuring that management is ecologically and economically sustainable.
For current statistics on infringements in general:
Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)
Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)