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Common front to maximise the socio-economic benefits of nature protection  

The European Commission (EC) publicly presented the new Natures Directive Action Plan together with the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) Tuesday 6 June. The CoR Vice-president Karl-Heinz Lambertz hosted the conference with the presence of Frans Timmermans and Jyrki Katainen, Vice-presidents of the European Commission, and Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for environment. The event attracted over a hundred representatives of environmental associations, relevant economic sectors, land users and owners and representatives of regional offices. The Action Plan was prepared by a project team of ten Commissioners with the direct involvement of the CoR. It includes four priority areas and 15 concrete actions to be implemented by 2019.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz opened the conference by stating: 'We are very pleased of the reinforced cooperation between the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions in the steering and implementation of the Action Plan. Natura 2000 works because of the tireless efforts of staff from local, regional and national public authorities, site managers, land users, land owners, conservation organisations, scientists, teachers and many others . From the European Committee of the Regions w e are fully committed to taking on our responsibilities, starting with the launch of a joint task force with the European Commission to implement the common measures foreseen by the Action Plan.' 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.

European Commission Vice-president Jyrki Katainen said: 'the Action Plan reinforces the links between nature, the economy and society, reaping the full potential for green growth and jobs.' On the specific priority to further engage with key stakeholders, Vice-president Katainen added: 'I particularly welcome the fact that the European Committee of the Regions will be actively involved in prompting smarter participatory approaches to encourage the full involvement of landowners, users and other stakeholders' . The Natura 2000 network is estimated to deliver economic benefits of 200-300 billion EUR per year. In the tourism sector, up to 2 million jobs are linked to Natura 2000 while 1.3 million of the 9.6 million farming jobs in the EU are linked directly or indirectly to Natura 2000.

Karmenu Vella , Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said: ' with the help of local and regional actors we have today an ambitious Action Plan to protect our natural resources for a more resilient economy and local communities. There is definitely plenty of work ahead. After 25 years of Natura 2000, we have a very solid foundation. But we need to push on. I am confident that with the so many citizens that helped us put this Action Plan together and with so many people depending on the success of it, we will make this Plan work on the ground.'

Frans Timmermans , first Vice-president of the European Commission closed the conference with a clear statement: 'p rotecting Europe's rich biodiversity is imperative for the wellbeing of our generation and future ones. The Action Plan is a concrete and important step in this regard.'

Member of the European Parliament, Adina-Ioana V ălean, highlighted the importance of 'EU institutions working together to give nature protection and biodiversity high importance in the European agenda' . The Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety reiterated that 'the active participation of the private sector and non-governmental organisations is vital to succeed in stopping the destruction of biodiversity which causes economic losses equivalent to 7% of global GDP.'

For More Information

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).

The goal of the new Nature Directives Action Plan is to improve the implementation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives while maximising the socio-economic value of nature protection and reverse biodiversity loss in Europe. 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. It covers 24% of EU’s land and sea and alone contributes between 1.7% and 2.5% of EU GDP.

The Nature Directives went through a comprehensive fitness check from 2014 from 2016. It revealed shortcomings in implementation due to limited resources, weak enforcement, poor integration of nature objectives into other policy areas, insufficient knowledge and access to data as well as poor communication and stakeholder involvement. The assessment also revealed inflexible application of species protection rules, delays and unduly heavy burdens in site permitting procedures.

The CoR's contributed to the Nature Directives Fitness Check through a specific opinion by rapporteur Roby Biwer (LU/PES), Member of Bettembourg Municipal Council, December 2015.

The CoR is currently contributing to the Environmental Implementation Review (EIR) of other directives via an opinion being drafted by Andrew Cooper (UK/EA), Member of Kirklees Council, to be adopted in October 2017.

Please click here to download pictures of the event

Event's website and full agenda are available here

Click here to access the Action Plan for nature, people and the economy

Contact: David Crous | +32 (0) 470 881 037 |

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