EU Commission pursues legal action against Ireland over failure to conserve cetaceans.

7th Aug 2003 IP/03/1109

Brussels, 24 July 2003

Wild Birds and Habitats Directives:

Commission pursues legal action against eight Member States.

The European Commission is taking action to conserve nature in Europe by pursuing infringement procedures against eight Member States.

Luxembourg has been requested to take measures to comply with a 2003 ruling of the Court of Justice requiring improved legislation to comply with an EU law on the conservation of habitats and species (Habitats Directive). The request takes the form of a first written warning ("letter of formal notice”) under Article 228 of the EC Treaty. The Commission has decided to refer the United Kingdom to the Court over shortcomings in its national legislation to implement the Habitats Directive. The Netherlands, France, UK, Spain, Italy and Ireland have all received requests to improve their implementation of EU nature conservation legislation. It has also decided to refer Spain to the Court due to gaps in the Spanish network of protected sites for wild birds. These requests take the form of final written warnings (“reasoned opinions”). The decisions taken highlight the need for nature conservation goals to be underpinned by adequate national legislation, designations and good practice.

Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallström, said: "Member States have committed themselves to halting the loss of bio-diversity in the EU by 2010 . If this objective is to be achieved, Member States need to reinforce their legislation and practice. I urge them to take the necessary steps as soon as possible"

Individual cases:

Ireland

The Commission has sent Ireland three final written warnings with regard to EU nature conservation legislation. One written warning concerns the continuing failure of Ireland to meet its obligations under the Wild Birds Directive to protect the habitats of rare and endangered wild bird species such as the Corncrake, the Chough and the Hen Harrier. In terms of the percentage of national territory covered, Ireland currently has the second smallest network of special protection areas (SPAs) designated in the EU. National legislation and SPA conservation practice in Ireland is also unsatisfactory.

A second written warning concerns weaknesses in Ireland's implementation of the Habitats Directive with regard to protected species, such as cetaceans and bats. The Commission considers that Ireland is not doing enough to safeguard the breeding and resting places of such species, and that the relevant Irish legislation is not strict enough.

The third written warning concerns weaknesses in Ireland's legislation with regard to recreational activities that may adversely affect sites protected under the Habitats Directive (such as the use of quad bikes on fragile peatlands). Irish legislation lacks adequate provisions to deal with such environmental pressures.

Luxembourg

On 13 February 2003, the Court of Justice ruled that the legislation used by Luxembourg to implement the Habitats Directive was deficient in several important respects (case C-75/01). More specifically, Luxembourg's legislation does not adequately reflect the definitions set out in the Directive. It also does not have enough rules to ensure the conservation of habitats or the protection of species in accordance with the Directive's requirements. As these shortcomings have yet to be remedied, the Commission has sent Luxembourg a letter of formal notice under Article 228 of the Treaty. Failure to comply with Court rulings may result in substantial fines being imposed on the Member State.

Netherlands

The Commission has sent the Netherlands a final written warning because it considers that a project to deepen and widen the river Scheldt did not respect EU nature conservation legislation. The project was carried out within the framework of a treaty that has been signed between the Netherlands a