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Brussels, 18 September 2008

Environment: Commission issues final warning to Romania over nature protection shortcomings, closes case against Finland

The European Commission is taking legal action against Romania for infringing biodiversity legislation. Despite some progress, Romania is still failing to designate sufficient protected areas for migratory and vulnerable wild birds, and is therefore violating the EU's Directive on the conservation of wild birds. A separate nature protection case against Finland has now been closed, as the country has made good its failure to provide sufficient protected areas for species that include the threatened Steller's eider duck.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Europe's network of protected areas is a vital safeguard for migratory and vulnerable birds. If one country neglects its duties, the whole of Europe suffers, so it is imperative that all Member States fulfil their obligations in these areas."

Final written warning for Romania over bird protection

The Commission is sending a final written warning to Romania about its failure to designate a sufficient number of protected areas for wild birds.

A first written warning was sent in October last year, as no Special Protection Areas (SPAs, see below) had been designated at the time. Although Romania has subsequently designated 108 SPAs, 21 areas identified as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have not been designated. In addition, a number of SPAs are smaller than the corresponding IBAs, with over one million hectares identified as IBAs currently excluded.

The Commission is therefore sending Romania a final written warning.

Finnish case closed

In March 2003, Finland was condemned by the European Court of Justice for failing to designate a sufficient number of protected areas for birds. Following long negotiations the sites in the mainland of Finland were found to be sufficient, although further areas designated specifically for the globally threatened Steller's eider (Polysticta stelleri), an Arctic sea duck that winters in the Åland archipelago, were needed. In view of Finland's continuing failure to comply with the ECJ ruling, the Commission began further proceedings, which culminated in a final written warning in March 2007.

Finland has now taken satisfactory steps to comply with the judgement by designating an additional SPA. Although the designation does not cover the whole IBA originally identified, the part of the Åland archipelago that has been designated (an area known as Båtskär) is an area identified as being the most suitable for the Steller's eider. The case has therefore been closed.

Special protection areas

Under the Wild Birds Directive[1], Member States are obliged to designate all of the most suitable sites as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to conserve wild bird species. The designation of SPAs must be based on objective, verifiable scientific criteria. To assess whether Member States have complied with their obligation to classify SPAs, the Commission uses the best available ornithological information. Where the necessary scientific information is lacking, national inventories of Important Bird Areas (IBAs), compiled by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Birdlife International, are used. While not legally binding, the IBA inventory is based on internationally recognised scientific criteria. The Court of Justice has already acknowledged its scientific value, and in cases where no equivalent scientific evidence is available, the IBA inventory is a valid basis of reference in assessing whether Member States have classified a sufficient number and size of territories as SPAs.

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.

For current statistics on infringements in general see:

[1] Wild Birds Directive (1979/409/EC) on the conservation of wild birds.

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