The Council of the European Union adopted on 19 June its conclusions on the EU Action Plan for nature, people and the economy. The Council recognises the CoR's key role as regards outreach and building ownership of the action plan at regional and local levels. Environmental ministers highlighted funding shortages and the need to ensure 'predictable, adequate, regular and targeted EU financing'. Following the Council's conclusions, CoR member and rapporteur Roby Biwer organised a visit to some Luxemburgish Natura 2000 sites with EC Director-General for Environment Daniel Calleja Crespo and representatives from the Luxemburgish Ministry for Environment.
The European Committee of the Regions has found the support of the Council in specific and important aspects as regards the implementation of the new EU Action Plan for nature, people and the economy, a set of fifteen measures to support the implementation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives across the EU. The Council conclusions were adopted yesterday 19 June in Luxembourg. The Council highlights the key role of the CoR to ensure the Plan's outreach and ownership at local and regional level as well as in monitoring the Plan's execution. The Council recognises that the timeframe for delivery (end of 2019) is short and 'urges the Commission to monitor its delivery across the 15 actions identified in close collaboration with the Member States and the EU institutions, in particular the Committee of the Regions.'
The Council also 'recognises that funding shortages are a key obstacle preventing the Natura 2000 network from delivering its benefits in full.' The Council 'underlines the need to ensure predictable, adequate, regular and targeted EU financing'. In line with the CoR's recommendations adopted under the opinion of Roby Biwer (LU/PES), Member of Bettembourg Municipal Council in December 2015, the Council also 'reiterates its call on the Commission to put forward a proposal for a trans-European network for green infrastructure (TENG) to support better connectivity of Natura 2000 in a cross-border context', as it has been supported by the CoR before.
Right after the Council ended, rapporteur Roby Biwer organised a study visit to some Luxembourgish Natura 2000 sites managed bySICONA, the Intercommunal Syndicate for Nature Conservation. The CoR's ENVE commission secretariat took part together with Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director-General for Environment of the European Commission, Nicola Notaro, Head of the Nature Unit at DG Environment and representatives from the Luxemburgish Ministry for Environment.
SICONA is a nature conservation public association of 45 municipalities, active since 1990 and covering a substantial part of Luxembourg's territory. SICONA's main task is biodiversity and landscape conservation, working to fulfil the missions of the Country's Nature Protection Act, counselling municipalities on nature and landscape protection and raising public awareness. From elaborating specific annual work programmes, to pre-financing projects and negotiating and contracting conservation programmes with owners and land managers, SICONA arises as a Natura 2000 best practice that reconciles nature protection with socio-economic benefits for local communities.
The CoR and the European Commission are closely cooperating to improve environmental law implementation in Europe. For the first time, the CoR joined a project team of EU commissioners to steer the new Nature Directives Action Plan launched last 27 April. Local and regional governments have welcomed this inter-institutional cooperation which it hopes will set a benchmark for other areas where cities and regions hold large competencies such in the case of EU environmental law.
CoR members are further contributing to the Environmental Implementation Review (EIR) via an opinion currently being drafted by Andrew Cooper (UK/EA) , Member of Kirklees Council. It is scheduled to be adopted in October 2017.
New EU Nature Directives Action Plan supports regions to protect biodiversity and drive socio-economic growth
The Natures Directives Action Plan foresees the direct involvement of the CoR in four specific actions: the promotion and dissemination of the new multi-lingual guidelines which include site permitting procedures, species protection and management and the integration of ecosystem services (action 1); encouraging the engagement of local and regional authorities within the action of refocusing the Natura 2000 biogeographical process and roadmaps, including cross-border issues (action 6); supporting knowledge exchange and engagement of local and regional authorities through the above mentioned CoR/EC Technical Platform for Cooperation on the Environment (action 13) ; and supporting recognition of good management of Natura 2000 sites and awareness-raising of the Nature Directives through relevant fora, availing of new technologies and outreach activities, strengthen links between natural and cultural heritage, especially in the context of 2018 as European year of cultural heritage (action 14).
To execute common actions, the EC and the CoR are setting up a new structure on cross-border nature protection within the existing Technical Platform for cooperation on the environment . Its first meeting is to take place during the European Week of Regions and Cities in October this year.
The Nature Directives are the cornerstone of Europe’s legislation on nature conservation, protecting around 2,000 of Europe’s most vulnerable species and habitats. The Directives established Natura 2000, the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. Natura 2000 covers 18 % of the EU’s land area and almost 6 % of its marine territory.
Natura 2000 contributes between 1.7% and 2.5% of EU GDP through the provision of ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water purification, pollination and tourism. While the cost of implementing Natura 2000 has been estimated at EUR 5.8 billion per year, its annual benefits are assessed at EUR 200-300 billion.
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