Revision of the fauna-flora-habitats and birds directives – a blessing or a curse?

In his “mission letter” to EU Environment Commissioner Vella, Commission President Juncker expressed the wish that the FFH- and Birds Directives (Natura 2000) be subjected to a review and evaluated as to whether they can be merged into “a more modern piece of legislation”.

This is of particular importance against the background of the current review of the two directives in the framework of REFIT. The provisions of the Natura 2000 directives lead to major legal uncertainties and delays in planning and authorisation procedures due to sometimes disproportionate and often imprecise requirements. Yet industry needs legally certain authorisation procedures with predictable timelines for their national production locations. In BDI’s view, it is immaterial whether this is achieved through a revision of the directives, through amendment of Germany’s nature protection law (BNatSchG) or through the creation of new standards. Rather, what is important is that nature protection and other interests in Europe, including industrial interests, are regulated in a balanced way without reducing nature protection standards. As one of the four stakeholders in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Federation of German Industry (BDI) participated in the Commission’s “Evidence Gathering Questionnaire” on the REFIT of the Natura 2000 directives in March/April 2015.

Industry supports and endorses the REFIT Natura 2000 process, since the provisions of the Natura 2000 directives lead to legal uncertainties, delays and high costs for industry in planning and authorisation procedures due to sometimes disproportionate and often imprecise requirements such as objections from environmental associations. However, it is BDI’s view that nature protection standards should not be watered down. Nevertheless, clear improvements are necessary which allow authorisation procedures for industrial projects to be dealt with rapidly as well as with legal certainty and a proportionate effort. This would correspond to a large extent with the European Commission’s objective of strengthening industry in Europe.

Current approaches and instruments for smart regulation should be reviewed, merged and further developed in the framework of REFIT. The public consultation that closed on 25 July 2015 also serves this purpose. Using ready-made responses (e.g. www.naturealert.eu/de), environmental associations managed to organise more than 500,000 NGO-inspired submissions to the Commission. It was therefore of great importance that the various industrial sectors were able to take part in the public consultation on REFIT Natura 2000 in an appropriate manner. However, industry found it extremely difficult if not impossible to respond to the questions. The way these questions were formulated did not allow respondents to propose positive, technical amendments. The questionnaire set out merely to confirm or tighten up the directives’ nature protection requirements and hence leaves no room for substantive improvement proposals which take account of the interests of business.

German industry needs legally certain authorisation procedures with predictable timelines for its national production locations. It is important that nature protection and other interests in Europe, including industrial interests, are regulated in a balanced way without reducing nature protection standards. This would correspond to a large extent with the European Commission’s objective of strengthening industry in Europe.