European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker’s suggestion that the EU’s nature laws may need to be “modernised” following an upcoming review must be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism.

In the current political climate, “modernising” is often a convenient bandwagon onto which attempts to weaken environmental protection can be hitched. This would not be the first attack on the Habitats and Birds Directives in the name of modernity.

In 2009, the then Dutch prime minister wrote to Mr Juncker’s predecessor to request proposals to bring the nature directives “up to date”, in particular to “take account of the increasingly topical need to strike a balance between ecological interests and economic and human interests, and to address the impact of climate change on our living environment”.

But according to the EU’s own high level policy, tackling climate change and nature conservation are by necessity complementary goals and one must not come at the expense of the other.

Positing the issue as one of Natura 2000 versus development, renewable or otherwise, as some have tried to do, does not make sense – unless the real agenda is one of deregulation.

In reality, developers and their consultants understand the regulatory system created by the longstanding nature directives and appreciate the certainty this provides. The prolonged uncertainty any revision of these instruments would cause makes it likely that a range of sectors will rally in support of better implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives, recalling that each directive took over three years to negotiate in the first place.

A revision of these directives in the current political climate would almost inevitably lead to a weaker instrument. This would represent a grave setback for conservation action and would set a very dangerous precedent for other environmental legislation, in the EU and beyond.

What is urgently needed is a new impetus for nature conservation in Europe, including a step-change in implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives, which have proven to be effective laws defending Europe’s most prized and threatened species and habitats.

In parallel we need much better integration of nature considerations into other existing policies, plus the development of ambitious new complementary policies.

Andrew Jackson
An Taisce's Natural Environment Officer

This article was originally published in ENDS Europe, on 12th Dec, 2014.