Communication: An action plan for nature, people and the economy

Author (Corporate)
Series Title
Series Details (2017) 198 final (27.4.17)
Publication Date 27/04/2017
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While having some of the most densely populated areas in the world, Europe also has a very rich and diverse natural heritage. The Nature Directives aim to ensure healthy nature in the European Union by providing a framework to protect species and natural habitats of conservation interest. The Directives establish the largest coordinated network of biodiversity-rich protected areas in the world, called Natura 2000, which covers 18% of the land area and 6% of the sea area of the EU. They protect about 1,500 animal and plant species and some 200 rare habitat types inside and outside these protected areas and combine nature protection with sustainable land use and economic activity.

Under its commitment to Better Regulation, the Commission launched in 2014 a comprehensive evaluation of the Nature Directives, called a "Fitness Check". With this process the Commission has listened to the concerns of citizens and businesses, who sometimes feel that European rules are difficult to understand, apply and enforce. This Fitness Check has found that, as part of broader EU biodiversity policy, the Nature Directives are fit for purpose but that achieving their objectives and realising their full potential will depend upon substantially improving their implementation. Improvements are needed both in their effectiveness and efficiency and in working in partnership with different stakeholder communities in the Member States and across the EU to deliver practical results on the ground.

Only around half of the birds and a smaller proportion of the other protected species and habitats in the EU have good conservation status today. The Natura 2000 network is now largely in place on land but important gaps remain in the marine environment. Only 50% of all Natura 2000 sites have management plans with conservation objectives and measures. Key factors behind the shortcomings in implementation include limited resources, weak enforcement, poor integration of nature objectives into other policy areas, insufficient knowledge and access to data, and poor communication and stakeholder involvement. Moreover, those who implement the Directives, particularly at regional and local level, are sometimes not sufficiently aware of their requirements or of the flexibility and opportunities they offer. This can lead to tensions between nature protection and economic activity.

However, the Fitness Check has shown that where targeted action takes place on a sufficient scale, the status of species and habitats improves, sometimes leading to remarkable recoveries. Moreover, there is increasing recognition that our natural environment underpins various sectors of our economy such as tourism. Conserving and using it sustainably are more important today than ever before. Doing so offers ample opportunities to attract and encourage investment in nature protection.

On 7 December 2016 the Commission held an orientation debate on the findings of the Fitness Check and their follow-up. In response, it decided to develop a concrete action plan to improve the implementation of the Directives, their coherence with socio-economic objectives and engagement with national, regional and local authorities, stakeholders and citizens. Given the strong territorial dimension of the Directives and the key role that regional and local authorities play in their implementation, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) has been closely associated in preparing this action plan and will play an essential role as regards engagement with and outreach to regional and local authorities.

This comprehensive action plan aims to rapidly improve practical implementation of the Nature Directives and accelerate progress towards the EU 2020 goal of halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, including in relation to climate resilience and mitigation. This will also benefit people living in Europe and the economy. Actions will be taken at EU level, in particular by the Commission and the Committee of Regions, but Member States and the stakeholders concerned will also need to act, with increased support and assistance from the EU. The action plan offers real opportunities to engage stakeholders and the public and create partnerships across policy areas. This will lay a solid foundation for reconciling and building bridges between nature, people and the economy.

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Related Links
EUR-Lex: SWD(2017)139: Factsheets providing details of actions in the action plan for nature, people and the economy
ESO: Background information: New action plan to help regions defend biodiversity and reap the economic benefits of nature protection

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