Fitness Check of Birds and Habitats Directives – Findings and Report.
The Fitness Check Process
At beginning of the year, the European Commission started an evaluation process of the current Birds (1979) and Habitats (1992) Directives, known as Fitness Check. These two directives constitute the basis of European Conservation Policy and, after several decades since their adoption, it is paramount to know if they are still “fit for purpose”.
The Fitness Check is then a retrospective evaluation developed within the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). Its specific objective was to assess through a broad consultation process the Effectiveness, Efficiency, Relevance, Coherence and the Added Value of the Birds and Habitats Directives.
Today, the study has been finished, and the general conclusion is that the Directives have generated many important benefits for nature conservation and sustainable development. Furthermore the costs of implementation are reasonable, and outweighed by the benefits, although they do impact some stakeholders more than others. To end with, the evaluation shows that the Directives are “fit for purpose”, and the slower progress made is not caused by the legislation itself but by its implementation.
Although considerable progress has been made, the measures taken are not yet sufficient to meet the overall aims of the Directives. Nonetheless, the Directives have reduced pressure on biodiversity, slowed declines and led to some recoveries of habitats and species. On the other hand, it seems that the Directives alone cannot deliver the EU’s biodiversity targets without complementary action at EU and national level, and the availability of funding seems to be the strongest factor that conditions their implementation.
The Directives have enhanced funding for nature conservation in the EU. However, these funding remains been insufficient across the EU and constitutes a major barrier for achieving the Directives objectives.
The Directives provide an efficient framework to address the key problems faced by habitats and species in Europe. The most frequent pressures on European protected habitats and species are linked to habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation resulting from land use change, especially from agriculture. On the other hand, stakeholders agree that the Directives’ aims and overall approach are still valid and appropriate, and that the Annexes should be further updated.
Both Directives are internally coherent and with each other, although some differences in scope and wording of specific and operational measures exist. Furthermore, the integration of nature and biodiversity within various EU funding programmes seems to not to be clear, especially those referring to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Cohesion Policy. The causes for this rely on the priorities set at national and regional levels and on the fund-raising capacity of the stakeholders.
EU added value
Due to the transnational character of nature, actions taken at EU level are considered as the most effective way to achieve the conservation objectives of the Directives. Likewise, it has been proved that the Directives have introduced innovative changes and have harmonised standards of protection and requirements within Europe in a way that could have not been done by implementing a patchwork of differing regulations across the continent.
For extended information, read the Evaluation Study to support the Fitness Check of the Birds and Habitats Directives.