Seven cases of illegal nature destruction have not been properly challenged by the European Commission – the body responsible for enforcing EU nature protection rules.
A new study from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Birdlife Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe, and WWF has laid out how cases of violations are regularly delayed, neglected or undermined as a result of inaction from the European Commission.
The violations include plans for destructive river dredging on the Doñana wetlands in southern Spain, grassland deterioration as a result of intensive farming in Germany, and the threat of further hydropower development in Romania. Turtle nesting in Cyprus is also under threat from tourism development, and breeding habitats for meadow birds are not being preserved in the Netherlands.
Only the recent prosecution of the Polish government over illegal deforestation in Białowieża stands out as an exception.
On 17 April the EU Court of Justice ruled that Poland broke EU nature protection rules by increasing the number of logging licences granted for Białowieża forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is part of the EU’s ‘Natura 2000’ network of protected sites where nature-damaging activities are restricted. The case was brought to the EU Court of Justice by the European Commission when it called on the EU court to slap a hefty fine on the Polish government following its refusal to respect an emergency ban on logging in Bialowieza that was issued by the EU court in July 2017.
Sergiy Moroz, Senior Policy Officer from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said:
“When protected nature is in trouble – whether from illegal logging, damaging projects, or intensive agriculture – the European Commission is often nature’s last line of defence. With many EU governments systematically failing to apply EU nature laws, the European Commission must act as a reliable back-stop and take prompt infringement action to conserve Europe’s precious natural habitats.”
Exactly one year ago the Commission published its ‘Action Plan’ to better protect nature, following a huge public #NatureAlert campaign to save EU nature laws.
But questions remain surrounding how proactive the Commission is when it comes to challenging illegal destruction.
Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy for BirdLife Europe & Central Asia said:
“In public, the European Commission stresses the importance of the role the rule of law plays as a fundamental value of the EU. But when it comes to enforcing the environmental acquis, there is a clear lack of action. That not only concerns prominent cases like ‘Dieselgate’, but many other cases relating to the non-implementation of EU’s Nature Directives. Here the European Commission is gambling with the future of Europe, contributing to the citizens lack of trust in the institutions.”