Ioli Christopoulou* - Since 2014, the European Nature Directives are undergoing a Fitness Check, as part of the EU’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). So far two phases have been completed. The first phase was an evidence gathering exercise asking various EU and national public authorities, private stakeholders and NGOs to provide evidence on the effectively, efficiency, relevance, coherence, and EU added value of the two fundamental legal instruments of Europe in the field of environment. The European Commission implements its REFIT programme claiming that simpler legislation and lower regulatory costs contribute to more growth and jobs, a priority for the EU, especially during this period of crisis. Therefore, it’s significant that the vast majority of the 107 respondents provided supportive evidence, emphasizing that greater effort is needed to ensure proper and timely implementation and enforcement of the Directives. Only few stakeholders raised concerns about the Directives and asked for their revision: specific farmer and fishing associations and the private forest owners.
The second phase consisted of a 12-week public consultation, organised by the European Commission. Although the detailed analysis of the responses has not yet been made public, the first statistical analysis provides us with some insight: 552,470 responses were submitted, which amounts to the largest participation in an EC on-line consultation to date. This high level of participation was supported by several campaigns in support and against the Directives organised by a variety of groups including the farmer’s associations in Belgium, Germany and Finland, German forest owner associations, and the hunting office of Spain and the Chamber of Commerce of Austria, throughout the consultation period. 520,325 respondents originated from the NGO-led Nature Alert campaign that was organised by BirdLife, EEB, Friends of the Earth, WWF and at least 120 other organizations across the EU. This massive public call to keep nature across Europe alive showcases the interest of the European public in protecting nature, despite immediate worries about the economy and employment. As such, it calls on the responsibility of the Commission as well as Member States to deliver on the objectives and obligations on protecting the natural environment of the EU.
As the process proceeds to the phase of analysis, consideration and final deliberation it is important that decision-makers remember that for Europeans nature protection remains of priority concern. The State of Nature report that was published earlier this year shows that although European biodiversity is still under threat, there are signals of recovery in those cases, where the Nature Directives are effectively implemented. Europe was once considered a leader in environmental and nature policy. No time and energy should be wasted in trying to lower these European policy and legal standards, for which there is both a need and public support. Instead, it is high time to stop the rollback and push forward: to focus on ensuring effective implementation of nature legislation, improving the coherence between biodiversity and relevant sectoral policies, securing that adequate funding for nature is available and ensuring open, transparent participatory process.
Ioli Christopoulou is Nature Policy Officer at WWF Greece