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Fitness Check of the Birds and Habitats Directives

In a nutshell

The Commission is currently evaluating the Birds and Habitats Directives to ensure that they are 'fit for purpose'.

In practice

As part of its Smart Regulation policy, the Commission initiated the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), a rolling programme to keep the entire stock of EU legislation under review. It affects the whole policy cycle, from initiation to evaluation, and aims to make EU law simpler and less costly.

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 field of environment policy, the Commission has completed fitness checks of the EU legislation on freshwater and on waste, 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 PDF of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. It defines the scope and aim of the exercise, setting key questions 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
  • Costs of implementation and of non-implementation
  • Opportunities to improve implementation and reduce administrative burden without compromising the purpose of the directives
  • Status of implementation in different EU countries
  • Views of key stakeholder groups

Evidence-gathering and public consultation

Key inputs to the fitness check are the mid-term review of the Biodiversity Strategy, published on 2 October 2015, and the Commission’s State of Nature in the EU report, based on the Member States’ assessment of the conservation status for the species and habitat types protected by the two nature directives (Full report PDF and brochure PDF).

The fitness check will also draw upon evidence gathered in two phases between January and July 2015:

Phase 1 (January-June 2015)

To ensure a geographically balanced and representative sample of all relevant sectors and interest groups, questionnaires PDF were sent to 47 EU-level organisations XLS and representative bodies, and 112 stakeholder organisations at Member State level PDF - one from each of the following categories:

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

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 end June 2015, meetings were held in ten Member States – Estonia, France, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom – to gather and examine evidence in more detail. Meetings focussed in particular on evidence related to the cost and benefits of the two directives, on any excessive or unnecessary administrative burden they may cause and why, and on implementation challenges and successes.

Phase 2 (30 April - 26 July)

A public Internet consultation was launched to gather opinions on the current EU nature conservation legislation.

Reference documents

A list of Commission studies and published and peer-reviewed key documents PDF 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

  • February 2014: publication of the mandate for the fitness check of the Habitats and Birds Directives
  • End October 2014: launch of a contract to help the Commission gather and assess relevant information and evidence
  • January - July 2015: evidence gathering and consultation of all Member States and key stakeholder groups
  • 30 April - 26 July 2015: 12-week public internet consultation
  • May 2015: publication of the 'State of Nature in the EU' report, based on the Member States' assessment of the conservation status for the Birds and Habitats Directives
  • 20 November 2015: conference on the Fitness Check in Brussels. Presentation of the draft emerging findings PDF. Executive summary available in French PDF and German PDF
  • March 2015: finalisation of the study contract supporting the Fitness Check
  • Second quarter 2016: publication of the Commission report on the results of the Fitness Check

Infographics

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