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Window Dressing Not Fundamental Commitment

Six billion Euro lifeline for nature`s crown jewels ? but is it enough?

BirdLife International welcomed last Friday`s initiative from the European Commission to adopt a ?6 billion strategic approach to finance Europe`s finest wildlife sites, the Natura 2000 network [The Natura 2000 network is expected to cover an area larger than France and Greece combined, once the new Member States identify their sites ? the EU has significant levels of globally important biodiversity e.g. the world`s largest flying bird (the Great Bustard) and has ancient forests like Bialowieza forest in Poland that holds European Bison]. But, the organisation warned that the plans will leave some of our most threatened species and habitats poor and destitute. The European Commission estimates that it will cost ?6.1 billion per year to keep Natura 2000 sites healthy. These protected areas are home to Europe`s most valuable wild animals and plants. But while estimating the costs, the Commission`s delivery plans are patchy and fail to lay out a strategic vision that will create a well-managed network allowing Europe to lead the way in nature conservation. Astonishingly, the Commission wants to axe Europe`s LIFE-Nature fund, halting the only funding programme dedicated to Natura 2000, and one that has proven success. Terminating this fund will put at risk globally threatened birds such as the Spanish Imperial Eagle and the Great Bustard, while making it difficult to fund habitats that rely on conservation management such as European wetlands and floodplain forests. The Commission`s idea of financing a sizeable part of Natura 2000 through rural and structural funds is sound in principle. However, no money has been earmarked for managing these protected areas. The new proposal for rural development is dramatically short of money, creating undesirable competition between measures. The European Commission launched its Communication (COM(2004)431) on Financing Natura 2000alongside draft regulations for rural development and structural funding. It is rumoured that if cuts in the EU budget occur, rural development funds will be slashed, causing the Commission`s Natura 2000 proposals to suffer disproportionately.Dr Clairie Papazoglou, BirdLife`s Head of EU Policy, said, The fact that the Commission has taken a strategic approach to financing Natura 2000 is a welcome step in the right direction. Yet, the omission of LIFE-Nature in the proposals is nothing short of disastrous for our most threatened birds and habitats. This fund should be enlarged not abandoned. Certainly, the agricultural and structural fund plans could deliver some benefits, but they need considerable tightening up. Both funds fail to earmark any money for Natura 2000. Past experience shows that without explicit encouragement, Member States are likely to divert these funds to other projects. Both proposals on the financial perspectives 2007-13 (COM(2004)487) and on Financing Natura 2000 omit any reference to the continuation of the LIFE-Nature programme beyond 2006. The draft structural fund regulations are currently heavily biased towards financing large scale infrastructure and road building programmes. The European Commission has decided not to heed recommendations from the European Parliament to earmark funds for Natura 2000 under agriculture and structural funds ? laid out in the European Parliament`s April 2004 resolution on the financial perspectives. Without secure and strategic financing for the Natura 2000 network, BirdLife has warned that the EU will struggle to achieve its target of halting biodiversity declines by 2010 agreed by EU Heads of State in 2001 and reaffirmed at this year`s June summit.

For further information please contact: Clairie Papazoglou, BirdLife`s Head of EU Policy: +32 (0)2 280 08 30 or Sacha Cleminson, RSPB European advocacy officer: +44 (0)7771 74 33 46

4th July 2014