Brussels in Brief. Natura 2000 A Safety Net for Europe s Nature

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1 Brussels in Brief Brussels in Brief is a regular feature of the IUCN Newsletter produced by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) in Brussels. It provides a platform to explain the substance of environmental policy, as well as highlight some of the up-coming EU agenda items relevant to Europe and beyond. Each edition of Brussels in Brief considers topics that relate to the overall thematic focus of the current Newsletter issue. Looking ahead: Commission Communication on the financing of Natura 2000 now expected in July Joint meeting of the PEEN Committee of Experts and the Emerald Network Group of experts: 5 6 October 2004; Krakow, Poland l_cooperation/environment/natur e_and_biological_diversity/ec ological_networks/ 8 9 November EU conference 25 years of the Birds Directive Dutch Presidency initiative. For further contact: Saskia Richartz 18 Avenue des Gaulois 1040 Brussels Belgium Tel.: +32 (0) Fax.: +32 (0) Natura 2000 A Safety Net for Europe s Nature The EU is committed to halting the decline in biodiversity on its territory by 2010, a commitment that was reiterated by Heads of State, meeting in Brussels in June. One of the main instruments for meeting this objective is Natura 2000 the EU s network of protected areas. Natura 2000 has effectively been under development since 1979 when Member States agreed to classifying Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds and their habitats. The Natura 2000 name was introduced 13 years later, by the 1992 Habitats Directive, which also requires Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to be designated for other species and habitats. There have been significant delays in the designation of both SACs and SPAs, but the EU s old Member States (EU15) are on the verge of completing their site selection process, at least for terrestrial sites, and most of the new Member States also seem largely on track to meet their commitments. The main challenge now is to make sure that sites are protected, managed and monitored, so that Natura 2000 becomes a living and effective network. This Brussels in Brief outlines the main provisions relating to Natura 2000, and summarises progress in implementation thus far. EU Nature Conservation Legislation the Foundations for a Greener Europe There are two key legal instruments that together define the EU s Natura 2000 network, the 1979 Birds Directive and the 1992 Habitats Directive. EU Birds Directive The Birds Directive was the EU s first substantial foray into nature conservation policy. At the time of its adoption, it was a landmark Directive, innovative in its new focus on the designation, conservation and management of protected areas. It has subsequently set a standard for bird protection across a Community of what was then 9, and is now 25 Member States. IEEP brings a non-partisan analytical perspective to policy questions and engages with stakeholders to raise awareness

2 Moreover, through its implementation and related efforts to harmonize conservation standards, it has also made a major contribution to conservation beyond the European Union. The Directive requires that Member States classify and protect the most important bird habitats as Special Protection Areas (SPAs). The aim is to help maintain the population of all species of natural occurring birds in the wild state, and at a level that corresponds to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements. The Directive includes a list of species (Annex I) for which Member States have to classify the most suitable territories (both land and sea) as SPAs, Similar provisions apply to regularly occurring migratory birds not listed in Annex I. Member States have then to send the Commission information about the measures taken, which should lead to coherent measures and a representative network at European level. Apart from avoiding pollution and deterioration of habitats, other measures, including the assessment of project which may damage the SPA, have to be taken under provisions which were added in 1992, by means of an amendment of the Birds Directive by the Habitats Directive (92/43), as outlined below. SPAs now cover 8.6 per cent of the European land territory of the EU15, representing a substantial part of the EU s protected areas. EU Habitats Directive The Habitats Directive was adopted in 1992, in large part to complement the Birds Directive by building on the existing SPA network. A central element of the EU Habitats Directive relates to the establishment and conservation of a new form of protected area: Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Although some overlap exists with SPAs, SACs now cover around 14 per cent of the land territory of the EU15. This area has to be managed in accordance with Article 6 of the Habitats Directive, requiring the necessary conservation measures to be introduced and implemented. Key provisions of Article 6 mean that appropriate steps have to be taken to avoid the deterioration of sites. There has also to be an appropriate assessment of plans and projects which are likely to have a significant adverse effect on the site. Only if it can be shown that a project must be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature can sites be damaged or destroyed. These provisions are equally applicable to classified SPAs. Apart from protecting SACs, Member States should also encourage the management of important landscape features as part of their land-use planning policies. Importantly, the habitats Directive introduced the concept of Natura 2000, bringing together SPAs and SACs under one banner. Eventually, Natura 2000 should consist of a coherent European ecological network of connected sites. EU Water Framework Directive strengthening the aquatic aspect of Natura 2000 The Water Framework Directive (2000/60), which introduces a single EU-wide system of water management by river basin, requires that registers of all Natura 2000 sites (and indeed other sites such as those designated under the EU Bathing Water Directive) are created for each river basin. The overall aim is that these sites and other surface waters are maintained at or restored to a good ecological status, which is to be achieved by the end of Natura 2000 on Land and at Sea Terrestrial building on old foundations Despite serious delays in the site selection process, more than 18 per cent of the EU15 s land territory has now been proposed for or included in Natura 2000 an area the size of Germany. Once the new Member States have

3 notified all of their sites, Natura 2000 is expected to grow to a size larger than that of France making Natura 2000 effectively the largest EU Member State. Although the Habitats Directive has helped to harmonize and improve standards overall, Natura 2000, on land, has often been built on longstanding designated sites such as national nature reserves and national parks. These existing sites have often had the benefit of management plans and measures well before Natura 2000 designation. However, the Habitats Directive brings an emphasis on connectivity and representivity of the Natura 2000 network. Starting with the site selection process, the representivity of selected habitats plays a key role. Improved connectivity between selected sites, on the other hand, will become more important once Natura 2000 has been fully established. The provisions concerning connectivity are relatively weak, and their impacts have still to be tested, however. The management of most terrestrial Natura 2000 sites is or will have to be taken forward in the context of agricultural influences, as well as water management and forestry measures. Some sites, however, are situated in Europe s urban environments, and will likely require a different type of management. Marine the new frontier The reach of the Habitats Directive in the marine environment has been controversial, with initial disagreement about whether its provisions only apply within territorial seas (ie up to 12 nm) or throughout waters where Member States exert powers. In 2000, a legal precedence was set, following a legal challenge brought against the UK Government by the environmental group Greenpeace. The UK High Court concluded that the Directive is applicable to the UK Continental Shelf, and the waters above the seabed, up to a limit of 200 nm from the baseline. This ruling is only binding on the UK, but there is now also political agreement at EU level that the Directive does apply to the Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nm) of those Member States that have declared one. The Commission suggests that: if a Member State exerts its sovereign rights in an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (for example, the granting of an operating license for a drilling platform), it thereby considers itself competent to enforce national laws in that area, and consequently the Commission considers in this case that the habitats Directive also applies, in that Community legislation is an integral part of national legislation (COM(1999)363). The Council of Ministers has confirmed this view (8077/01). Arguably, what is said for the Habitats Directive should also be said for the Birds Directive. Note, however, that neither the Commission nor the Council statement is determinative. Ultimately, the power to interpret European Community law rests with the European Court of Justice. The late recognition of the marine applicability of the Habitats Directive, especially in the nm zone, further delayed the already slow process of site selection for marine areas. In many cases, national transposing legislation had (and still has) to be adapted to apply beyond 12 nm. Moreover, competencies offshore are often less clear, and there is some confusion about the responsibilities to protect marine sites. The duty to protect marine Natura 2000 sites from fishing impacts, for instance, poses some legal challenges. As discussed, such sites have to be protected by the Member States, which have, however, transferred the right to conserve fisheries to the European Community (in most cases). If the need arises to restrict fishing in an area in order to protect a Natura 2000 site, it is thus unclear whether measures can be taken by the Member States responsible for the site, or whether the measures have to be taken at the Community level under the Common Fisheries Policy.

4 Other reasons for the lack of progress in the marine application of the Habitats and Birds Directives, is the still insufficient knowledge and routine management of marine ecosystems. IEEP Briefing on Interactions Between the CFP and the Habitats and Birds Directives by D. Owen: 00CFP_Final_Report.pdf Progress Thus Far Biogeographical Seminars closing the first chapter Under the Habitats Directive, SACs have to be selected on the basis of strict scientific criteria. To ensure that the overall network is representative of all European environments. The sites then undergo a 'process of moderation' at the EU level, involving representatives from the Member States and the Commission in a series of biogeographical seminars. The experts have to agree on a balanced set of sites, covering an area sufficient to ensure the safeguarding of all species and habitats, whether on land or at sea. An exception is made in the case of proposed SACs which contain priority habitat types and/or species (as identified by the Habitats Directive). Such sites do not require assessment through moderation, but are directly considered for adoption at EU level. SPAs are also treated differently: they are identified and classified by the Member States alone, reflecting simpler provisions contained in the Birds Directive. For the EU15, this site moderation process has now been concluded, and the lists for the Alpine and Macaronesian Regions have already been adopted. This brings to a close, a long-overdue chapter in the implementation of Natura 2000 in the EU15 - six years after the legal deadline. The Member States now have to make progress in formally designating their sites as SACs. Habitats Directive Implementation Report: servation/monitor_indic_reporting/reporting/habitats/inde x_en.htm Birds Directive Implementation Report: servation/monitor_indic_reporting/reporting/birds/index_ en.htm Natura 2000 in the new Member States on track for implementing Natura 2000 The ten new Member States legal deadline for submitting Natura 2000 site proposals to the Commission was the 1 May 2004, the day of accession. Compared to the EU15, they are well on track in their notification of sites, with 8 of the ten country lists having been submitted. Once all site proposals have been received by the Commission, a new round of biogeographical seminars will be held. This is however unlikely to take place before the end of A recent report by the WWF also points to a number of shortcomings in the implementation of Natura 2000 in the new Member States. In most or all cases, site proposals are considered insufficient, and in some instances extensive pruning of initial lists, which legally have to be based on scientific criteria only, has taken place before submission to the Commission. Key in preparing the new Member States for Natura 2000 has been a pan-european initiative to protect sites under the Bern Convention (Council of Europe). Through the Emerald Network, the new Member States were able to participate in pilot projects, which provided support in the selection of sites and the use of special software and datasheets. Special funds were also available from the Council of Europe to support capacity building. Most of this experience and training has been directly applicable to the implementation of Natura Importantly, the Emerald Network also extends beyond the limits of the new EU25, extending site protection similar to that under Natura 2000, into northern Africa, the Balkans and other parts of Europe.

5 WWF Report: 2p.pdf Emerald Pilot Projects: logical_networks/the_emerald_network/04pilot_projects.as p#topofpage Financing Natura progress in the interpretation of Article 8 One of the more controversial aspects of Natura 2000 has been the costs associated with its implementation. In recognition of the exceptional financial burden that Natura 2000 might place on the Member States, the Habitats Directive contains provisions in Article 8 for Community cofinancing of management measures in certain sites. Article 8 is rather limited, however. It is restricted to sites containing priority habitats and species. It is also vague about the amount of co-financing that may be needed, and does not promise new money but relies on existing EU co-financing sources. A Commission Working Group known as the Markland Group - was set up to consider Article 8 and the potential cost of and means of funding for Natura The conclusions and recommendations of the Markland Group were published in 2002, suggesting that the cost of managing Natura 2000 in the EU15 would be between 3.5 billion and 5.7 billion per year for the next 10 years. Three main options were suggested for securing the necessary co-financing from the EU, as follows: using existing EU funds, notably rural development funds of the CAP, Structural and Cohesion Funds and the LIFE-nature instrument, but modifying these in order to ensure better delivery against Natura 2000 needs; enlarging and modifying the LIFE-Nature instrument to serve as the primary delivery mechanism for Natura 2000 funding; or creating a new funding instrument dedicated to Natura On the basis of these recommendations, the European Commission has been developing a communication on Natura 2000 funding, which is now expected in July Legislative proposals for the Structural and Cohesion Funds and the rural development regulation are expected at the same time. In the meantime, recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have introduced mandatory cross compliance measures, which require Member States to attach environmental conditions to Single Farm Payments, effective from Compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives and minimum habitat maintenance are two such conditions (see Brussels in Brief Volume 3). Article 8 Report: servation/natura_2000_network/financing_natura_2000/ar t8_working_group/index_en.htm The future agenda Member States have made disappointing progress in implementing different aspects of the Habitats and Birds Directive, particularly in site selection. Despite some recent advances, the timescale set out under the Habitats Directive has not been met, and a number of important sites are also still not protected. In light of this, the recent high-level biodiversity conference in Malahide, Ireland (see Brussels in Brief Volume 3), concluded by agreeing to the new targets of: completing Natura 2000 on land by 2005, and in the marine environment by 2008; and agreeing and instigating management objectives for all sites by The Malahide Conclusions have formed the basis of recent Council Conclusions, endorsing this and other targets for meeting Europe s 2010 commitment. Final Malahide Massage Meeting

6 The International Context The EU s international obligations The Habitats and Birds Directives need to be seen in the broader context of international commitments that the Community and Member States have signed up to, notably the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity and the 1979 pan- European Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), as well as the regional seas conventions, OSPAR, HELCOM and the Barcelona Convention. Together, the Birds and Habitats Directives serve to implement at least in part these international obligations. En Route to Meeting the challenges The Birds and Habitats Directives remain the single most important EU instruments for safeguarding biodiversity across the European Union, and their effective implementation is of paramount importance. But they should not be seen in isolation as, alone, they are insufficient for meeting the challenge of halting the loss of biodiversity by To deliver on the 2010 target will require integrating environmental considerations into all relevant EU sectoral policies. Moreover, the strengthening of the environmental aspect of the EU s external policy are also essential for protecting nature in Europe and beyond. The next Brussels in Brief will focus on the financing of Natura 2000, particularly in the context of European funds.

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