Improving practical implementation of the Nature Directives[1]: An Action Plan for nature, people and the economy

Birds and Habitats Directives are the basis of the EU-wide Natura 2000 network of protected territories. They also play an important role in achieving the headline target of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to ‘halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU and help stop global biodiversity loss by 2020’. A comprehensive evaluation (Fitness Check) of Nature Directives concluded that the Directives are fit for purpose, but there is a need to efficiently improve their implementation by 2019 both on EU and Member State level. In April 2017 the European Commission adopted the Action Plan for nature, people and the economy to address the identified implementation gaps and boost the potential of the Directives to deliver practical results. The Action Plan focuses on four priority areas, includes 15 actions and defines who is responsible for their implementation. Measures will be taken at EU level, in particular by the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions, but member states will also need to take steps, supported by the European Commission. Given the key role that regional and local authorities play in the Nature Directives' implementation several actions defined in the Action Plan call for the active engagement of regional authorities in achieving the objectives of the Directives.

Priority areas and key actions as defined in the Action Plan:

Priority A: Improving guidance and knowledge and ensuring better coherence with broader socio-economic objectives

The Action Plan acknowledges the need to improve the existing guidance documents and develop new sector-specific ones. To help public authorities apply the legislation better, the European Commission intends to update the guidance documents on site permitting procedures, species protection as well as on integrating eco-system services into decision-making. Member States will also play a role in improving knowledge and especially in supporting access to data necessary for the implementation of the Nature Directives, in enhancing monitoring and filling the gaps in knowledge in Natura 2000 network.

Priority B: Building political ownership and strengthening compliance

Actions under this priority are focused on completing the Natura 2000 network at land and sea, especially filling gaps for the marine environment. Of particular significance is the plan of the European Commission to launch bilateral meetings with Member States using the new Environmental Implementation Review (EIA) process. National, regional and local authorities can make full use of this support mechanism to discuss implementation challenges and individual needs of the Member States. In the framework of EIA dialogue, they can also jointly develop roadmaps with agreed actions, outputs and milestones. Another key action under this priority is the promotion of stronger cooperation between public authorities from different Member States at biogeographical region level to address common issues, including in cross-border areas. Finally, the European Commission, in cooperation with the Member States, will develop Species and Habitats Action Plans for the most threatened species and natural habitats, and thus address the unfavourable conservation status of many protected species and habitats that are continuing to decline.

Priority C: Strengthening investment in Natura 2000 and improving synergies with EU funding instruments

Insufficient funding is of particular concern as it has been hampering the implementation of the Nature Directives. In order to strengthen investments in nature protection it is intended to assist Member States in updating their Prioritised Action Frameworks (PAFs) to ensure more precise calculation of EU financial support for Natura 2000, and definition of clear priorities and possible synergies with other policies. Another measure is 10% increase in the LIFE budget within the overall budget of the LIFE programme, and this budget increase has already been reflected in LIFE multiannual work programme for 2018-2020 adopted in February 2018. The Action Plan also aims to stimulate private sector investments in nature and promote synergies with funding from the Common Agricultural Policy. Under this action, the European Commission intends to encourage Member States, regions and stakeholders to develop projects with macro-regional relevance on nature protection. The role of Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform in supporting regional actors as part of the environment and resource efficiency theme is also mentioned in the detailed factsheets complementing the Action Plan.

Priority D: Better communication and outreach, engaging citizens, stakeholders and communities

One of the challenges identified during the evaluation of Birds and Habitats Directives is the insufficient priority given to the implementation of these Directives at national, regional and local level and limited experience and expertise of many authorities responsible for nature protection. To address this gap, European Commission and the Committee of the Regions will jointly facilitate knowledge exchange among EU cities and regions and organise events on promoting the role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of the Nature Directives. Additional initiatives are envisaged to foster dialogue with the citizens and especially with young people on EU nature protection policy.

There is an urgent need for action to improve the implementation of the Nature Directives to achieve the biodiversity targets by 2020. The Action Plan for nature, people and the economy is an important step in this direction but its successful implementation will largely depend on the active involvement and political will of national and regional authorities.

Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform 

Environment and resource efficiency

Thematic expert: Venelina Varbova 


[1] Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive) — OJ L 206 of 22.7.1992, p. 7 and Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds (Birds Directive) — OJ L 20 of 26.01.2010. p. 7.