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Greece guilty of infringing European conservation law

EU Commission to get tough

BirdLife International welcomes today’s decision of the European Court of Justice which found Greece guilty of breaching European nature conservation law [Article 226 of the EU Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations. In a first phase, the Commission opens an infringement procedure and addresses a ‘Letter of Formal Notice’ to the Member State concerned. In the light of the reply or absence of a reply the Commission may address a ‘Reasoned Opinion’ or final written warning. If the Member State fails to comply, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice. Article 228 sets out that if the Member State does not comply with a ruling of the Court a financial penalty can be imposed. ]. According to the European Court, Greece failed to designate a sufficient number and area of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds as required by the EU Birds Directive [The EU Birds Directive and Special Protection Areas: The EU Birds Directive requires Member States to designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds to ensure the survival of the EU’s most threatened bird species and migratory birds. SPAs form part of the ‘Natura 2000’ network of the EU, a modern conservation concept which, on about 18% of the EU’s territory, aims to reconcile human activities with nature conservation. Natura 2000 sites are not fenced-off areas, but encourage sustainable and nature friendly land-use and business.].The EU Birds Directive declares that each Member State has to designate the most appropriate areas for the protection of birds as SPAs. BirdLife International’s inventory of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) provides a reference list for this, as confirmed once more by the European Court today. In Greece, SPA designation is lacking both in number of sites and area of coverage. More specifically, Greece currently has 196 IBAs of which only 40% has been designated as SPAs under the EU Birds Directive. Therefore, the European Court has ruled today that Greece has to close this gap and designate the remaining sites. The Court also ruled that Greece has to do more to protect twelve species among which are Krueper’s Nuthatch Sitta krueperi, the Mediterranean subspecies of European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii, Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus and Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus. All EU countries have shown commitment to implementing the EU’s nature legislation and to work towards the EU-wide target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010. It is widely agreed that achieving this target is also crucial if we want to buffer the negative effects of climate change, but as the Court ruling shows, more needs to be done.

“The performance of Greece regarding the implementation of the Birds Directive is unfortunately really poor. Let us not forget that Greece has active cases in the European Court of Justice, regarding also the conservation status in designated SPAs and the proper integration of the EU Birds Directive in National law” , warns Xenophon Kappas, Director of the Hellenic Ornithological Society (BirdLife Partner, Greece).

A recent BirdLife analysis published in Science magazine showed that the European Union’s Birds Directive has made a significant difference in protecting many of the continent’s most threatened birds from further decline. Still though, several bird species in Greece, like Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus and Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus are under severe threat and are relying on the protection provided by European law in order to ensure their survival.

4th July 2014