On 28 September 2015, Luxembourg's Secretary of State for Sustainable Development and Infrastructure, Camille Gira, was invited by the Environment, Climate Change and Energy (ENVE) Commission of the Committee of the Regions to take part in a round table dedicated to the "fitness check" of the "Habitat" and "Wild Birds" Directives made by the European Commission as part of the "Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme" (REFIT). This round table was organised while the Committee of the Regions is drawing up an opinion on the quality assessment of these two directives, for which Roby Biwer is the rapporteur. For Camille Gira, a challenge to the directives within the framework of the REFIT programme would send a "devastating political message" and be a "sign of surrender".
For Roby Biwer, the quality assessment must serve to strengthen the implementation of the Directives.
In his draft opinion, Roby Biwer expressed his concerns regarding the poor conservation status of the large majority of species and types of habitats and expressed concerns that many of them will continue to deteriorate. However, he believes that their status has clearly improved in the Natura 2000 areas.
In his view, the shortcomings identified and the worrying conservation status of a large number of species and types of habitats cannot be attributed to a lack of effectiveness on the part of the nature protection directives. "These directives have proven to be very effective instruments in preserving biodiversity", his draft opinion reads.
In terms of fulfilling the aims of these Directives, he noted the insufficient contribution in other EU policy areas, such as Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy or energy and transport policy, to maintaining biodiversity as "problematic".
The Rapporteur called on the Commission not to seek to change the nature directives in their review, but to use the quality assessment in order to recommend action to improve implementation by Member States and regional and local authorities.
Camille Gira believes that the "Habitats" and "Wild Birds" Directives are effective, do produce results and are fit for purpose.
Speaking before the Committee of the Regions, Camille Gira noted that the environmental situation in Europe is "alarming". He referred to data published in various studies, such as "State of nature", the report on the state of the environment from the European Environment Agency (EEA), and the mid-term assessment report on the biodiversity strategy to 2020, published by BirdLife Europe, which all stress the need to "double-up efforts".
The Secretary of State believes that the Directives, which have been "slow" to get off the ground, are effective, produce results and are fit for purpose. "The Birds and Habitats Directives have become the cornerstones of nature protection in the EU, and a centerpiece of the common legislation that strengthens the image of the EU", he said.
In his view, the Directives offer legal certainty to businesses and prevent environmental dumping at European level. These Directives allow for the protection of species and habitats "in a way that would not be possible within national policy frameworks", stressed Camille Gira.
Camille Gira suggested that only time will tell when it comes to quantifying the real potential of the Directives. A time lag between implementation and results must be taken into consideration when dealing with biological systems. "It would be a big mistake to stop these efforts from bearing fruit", he warned.
Camille Gira was of the view that the full potential of "Nature" Directives is not being exploited
Camille Gira believes that "the full benefit of the Directives is not being exploited, due to the absence of full implementation and application, as well as the lack of financial resources.
"Cross-sectoral integration and the integration of biodiversity in other key sectors pose major problems", he said. "Above all, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) instruments do not fully utilise synergies with the Nature Directives", indicated the Secretary of State, who advocated for "rethinking the CAP". "We must strengthen the Directives and move away from ineffective non-targeted payments towards more targeted payments", explained Camille Gira. In his view, reworking the CAP towards sustainable development is essential to achieving our goals of “living well within the limits of our planet” (EU long term vision for 2050, included in the Union's general action programme for the environment by 2020, ed.).
Camille Gira believes the time for the assessment was "poorly chosen"
Although a quality assessment, as such, can be useful in assessing the effectiveness of any directive, the time for assessment was "poorly chosen", according to Camille Gira. Calling into question the Directives within the framework of the REFIT programme before 2020 sends a "devastating political message" and is a "sign of surrender", he surmised, not only for the EU's biodiversity strategy but also for other commitments at European and global levels. He wondered how it will be possible to achieve the aims set out in the EU biodiversity strategy when we are in the process of assessing the effectiveness of the Directives designed to achieve these aims.
The Secretary of State announced that the Luxembourg Presidency intends to consider the progress made during the mid-term review of the EU's Strategy for biodiversity by 2020. This strategy is fundamental because it contributes, in his view, to meeting other commitments such as the Union's General Action Programme for the Environment by 2020 (7th EAP), the Global Biodiversity Strategy and the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, adopted during the UN summit on sustainable development in New York on 27 September 2015, which takes into account the key objectives for biodiversity. "Biodiversity and nature are important in the transition towards a low-carbon and circular economy, and in confronting the consequences of climate change", pleaded Camille Gira.
Recalling that the EU had failed to meet the objective it had set to halt biodiversity loss by 2010, the Secretary of State said that much progress had been made since and that it is still possible to achieve these goals. "The mid-term review is an opportunity to draw the right conclusions to get us back on track to achieving our biodiversity goals", he concluded.