21/06/2016
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EU environment ministers speak up for nature laws

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On Monday [20 June], EU Environment Council ministers joined BirdLife in front of a banner calling for nature laws to be officially and immediately deemed fit for purpose.

Ministers with responsibility for the environment from all 28 EU Member States met in Luxembourg along with BirdLife Europe, which was there to support ministers in reaffiriming their backing for the Birds and Habitats Directives, the laws that protect Europe's nature.

During the meeting itself, ministers from Luxembourg and Germany expressed their disappointment with the European Commission (EC) for not publishing its 'fitness check' report on the Directives, and called on the EC to publish the report as soon as possible.

Commissioner Karmenu Vella, the Maltese politician currently in charge of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, replied that the Nature Directives are key to protect biodiversity and nature, and agreed that strengthening implementation in all Member States is important. He stated that the Commission is still working on this issue and is planning to present its report on the fitness check in autumn. He also reiterated Vice President Timmerman's emphatic statement last week before the ENVI committee of the European Parliament that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is their operating and underlying principle, about which their own commissioned study is unequivocal.


EU environment ministers (clockwise from left) from Germany, France, Estonia and Greece, followed by Commissioner Vella and, lastly, Luxembourg (Photo: BirdLife)

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The EC was scheduled to publish the result of its fitness check of the Directives ahead of a Dutch EU Presidency conference. The findings were to have informed the conference discussions, and considerations for better implementation of the laws. However, the Dutch cancelled the conference due to the failure of the Commission to publish any findings.

On June 15, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's own team commissioned analysis of the fitness check was leaked, and shows that the laws are fit for purpose and should be implemented in full. Later the same day, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans was grilled by MEPs at the ENVI committee demanding publication of the report and implementation of the Directives. The June 20 action encouraged environment ministers to echo the MEPs' demands from last week calling on Juncker to end the procrastination and fully implement the laws.

In December 2015, the Environment Council unanimously agreed that these laws are critical to the conservation of nature and called on the European Commission to strengthen their implementation. To date the EC has not responded to the European Parliament, SMEs, civil society representatives or the over 520,000 citizens who have all called for the full implementation of the laws. However, one thing seems certain: the Directives have been shown to be very effective at their purpose and should continue to be implemented as they are.