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Fitness Check of EU Nature Legislation (Birds and Habitats Directives)

What's new ?

  • A conference to discuss draft emerging findings took place on 20 November 2015.
  • A background document prepared by the consultant carrying out the Fitness Check study has been issued in advance of the conference. This provides a summary of the draft emerging findings of the consultant's report. The executive summary of the report is also available in French and German.
  • The Commission has also issued a report on the public consultation that was carried out earlier this summer.



As part of its Smart Regulation policy the Commission has initiated a Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). This is a continuous process, affecting the whole policy cycle – from the design of a piece of legislation to implementation, enforcement, evaluation and, where justified, revision.

Under the first stages of this programme, the Commission has reviewed the entire stock of EU legislation and decided on follow-up actions, one of which is a ‘Fitness Check’ involving a comprehensive policy evaluation aimed at assessing whether the regulatory framework for a particular policy sector is ‘fit for purpose’. In this context, Fitness Checks provide an evidence-based critical analysis of whether EU actions are proportionate to their objectives and delivering as expected. They cover environmental, economic and social aspects, and concern all EU policy areas.

In the environment policy field, the Commission has already completed Fitness Checks of EU freshwater and waste related legislation, and has now begun a Fitness Check of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.

The mandate

As a first step, the Commission developed a mandate for the Fitness Check on the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. Published in February 2014, this defines the overall scope and aim of the exercise, and sets out a number of key questions that are to be addressed in relation to the Fitness Check criteria:

  • Effectiveness (Have the objectives been met?)
  • Efficiency (Were the costs involved reasonable?)  
  • Coherence (Does the policy complement other actions or are there contradictions?)
  • Relevance (Is EU action still necessary?)
  • EU added value (Can or could similar changes have been achieved at national/regional level, or did EU action provide clear added value?)

In this context the Fitness Check will examine, among other things:

  • Implementation and integration successes and problems
  • The costs of implementation and of non-implementation of the legislation
  • Opportunities for improving implementation and reducing administrative burden without compromising the integrity of the purpose of the directives
  • The situation of implementation in different EU countries
  • The views of key stakeholder groups

Here is a link to the mandate for the Fitness Check.

A key input to the Fitness Check will be the Commission’s State of Nature in the EU report, which is based on Member States’ conservation status assessments of the species and habitat types protected by the two nature directives. The mid-term view of the Biodiversity Strategy, foreseen for later in 2015, will also provide further evidence-based information.

Evidence-gathering and public consultation

The Fitness Check will draw upon evidence, data and information gathered through a structured process over the period January-July 2015.  

With the support of a study contract, the Commission has sought to gather data and information for the evaluation in two key phases:

Phase 1 (January-June 2015) involved an extensive and targeted evidence-gathering exercise.

As part of this process, questionnaires were sent to 47 EU level organisations and representative bodies, and 112 stakeholder organisations at Member State level - one from each of the following categories:

  • Competent authority for nature
  • Other public sector body
  • Private sector
  • Non-governmental organisation involved in nature conservation

Effort has been made to ensure that evidence is gathered from a geographically balanced and representative sample of all relevant sectors and interest groups.

The responses received can be seen here, together with a number of completed questionnaires that were sent by other organisations on their own initiative.

Between April and the end of June 2015, meetings were also held in ten Member States in order to gather and examine evidence in more detail, in particular evidence related to costs and excessive or unnecessary administrative burden linked to the Directives and the reasons behind them, as well as implementation challenges and successes. The ten Member States are the Netherlands (16-17 April), Germany (20-21 April), Poland (23-24 April), Spain (5-6 May), Malta (12-13 May), France (19-20 May), and the United Kingdom (1-2 June) Sweden (8-9 June), Slovakia (23-24 June), and Estonia (29-30 June).

Phase 2 (30 April - 26 July): a public Internet consultation, which was open to all and available in 23 official languages of the EU, was launched in order to gather opinions on current EU nature conservation legislation. Initial, statistical results are available as well the complete report . The executive summary of the report is also published in French and German.

You can access all the responses to the public consultation through the EU Survey website.

Contributions received outside the public consultation are published here.

Reference documents

list of Commission studies and published and peer-reviewed key documents relevant for the evaluation of EU Nature Directives has also been drawn up. The relevance to different questions in the mandate of the fitness check is indicated under each of the categories (S = Effectiveness; Y = Efficiency; R = Relevance; C = Coherence; AV = EU added value).

Indicative timeframe and key milestones for the Fitness Check

  • February 2014: publication of the mandate for the Fitness Check on the Habitats and Birds Directives.
  • End October 2014: launch of a contract to assist the Commission in the gathering and assessment of relevant information and evidence for the Fitness Check by a consortium, led by MILIEU Legal and Policy Consultant in partnership with the Institute of European Environment Policy (IEEP), ICF International and ECOSYSTEMS Ltd.
  • January - July 2015: Structured evidence gathering consultation with all Member States and key stakeholder groups.
  • 30 April - 26 July 2015: 12 week public internet consultation. The report of the consultation is available.
  • May 2015 publication of the 'State of Nature in the EU' report, based on Member States conservation status assessments for the Birds and Habitats Directives.
  • 20 November 2015: a dedicated conference was held on the Fitness Check in Brussels, where the draft emerging findings of the consultant's evaluation were shared and discussed with Member States and key stakeholder groups. The executive summary of the report is also available in French and German
  • December 2015: Finalisation of study contract supporting the Fitness Check.
  • Second quarter 2016: publication of Commission report on the results of the Fitness Check.