Chapter News

New Action Plan to Help Regions Defend Biodiversity and Reap the Economic Benefits of Nature Protection

The European Commission has adopted a new Action Plan to improve the protection of nature and biodiversity in the EU, for the benefit of its citizens and the economy.

The Plan consists of 15 actions to be carried out by 2019 to rapidly improve the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives, which are the EU’s flagship nature policies.

These Directives establish the largest coordinated network of biodiversity-rich protected areas in the world (Natura 2000 network), covering more 18% of land and 6% of sea in the EU. These protected areas alone contribute between 1.7 and 2.5% to EU GDP through the provision of ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water purification, pollination and tourism. The Action Plan adopted today is about improving the management of these areas, connecting nature protection and socio-economic activities more broadly, and engaging with national authorities, stakeholders and young people.

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President for Better Regulation, said: “We conducted a thorough review of these Directives and concluded that they are fit for purpose. Now we are making sure that they achieve their full potential in protecting and preserving Europe’s rich biodiversity. This is a valuable example of how Better Regulation enhances the protection of the EU’s high environmental standards.

Jyrki Katainen, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, added: This Action Plan contains concrete actions which will make Nature Directives work better. We are laying a solid foundation for reconciling biodiversity protection and economic activities, including investment in our natural capital. Our success will depend on intensive cooperation with stakeholders, particularly local and regional authorities.”

Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said: “The Action Plan identifies ambitious implementation improvements of the Nature Directives. The best way to protect future generations is to involve young people. Our new European Solidarity Corps does just that. Member States’ local and regional governments can lead the way in implementing this and the other policies necessary to protect our natural heritage”.

Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, who was also involved, given the key role that regional and local authorities play in the Directives’ implementation said: “The Action Plan is a step in the right direction. As the Assembly representing cities and regions in Europe, we will support its roll out and actively engage with local and regional authorities to ensure we reach our biodiversity targets for 2020”.

The 15 actions, to be carried out between now and 2019, focus on 4 priority areas:

Improving guidance and knowledge and ensuring better coherence with broader socio-economic objectives

  • The Commission will help Member States to effectively implement the legislation and reap the economic benefits. We will update, develop and actively promote guidance on site permit procedures, species protection and management as well as sector-specific guidance on important topics such as wind energy, hydropower and aquaculture. New guidance on integrating ecosystem services into decision-making will also be provided.
  • The Commission will help ensure public online access to data necessary for implementing the Directives (e.g. satellite imagery from the Copernicus programme).

Building political ownership and strengthening compliance

  • Providing clarity for stakeholders will strengthen compliance. The Commission will support Member States in putting in place the necessary conservation measures for all sites.
  • The Commission will work with national and regional authorities, landowners and other stakeholders to improve implementation and overcome challenges.

Strengthening investment in Natura 2000 and improving use of EU funding

Better communication and outreach, engaging citizens, stakeholders and communities

  • Support knowledge exchange with local and regional authorities through a joint platform with the Committee of the Regions.
  • Involve young people through the European Solidarity Corps, making full use of the €3.3 million dedicated to the deployment of volunteers to support conservation of Natura 2000 sites and contributing through EU funding to offer young Europeans further cross-border volunteering opportunities or professional experience.
  • Support awareness-raising, use new technologies, and strengthen links between natural and cultural heritage, especially in the context of 2018 as the European year of Cultural Heritage.
  • Proclaim 21 May as the European Natura 2000 Day.


The Nature Directives (Birds Directive (1979) and Habitats Directive (1992)) are the cornerstone of the EU’s biodiversity policy. They were subject to a ‘Fitness Check’ which provided an overall performance evaluation of their effectiveness and efficiency as part of the Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) programme. The Fitness Check engaged all stakeholders, including a positive mobilisation of over 500,000 citizens expressing support for the Directives through the Commission’s public consultation – a record level of responses,

The Commission’s Conclusions on the Fitness Check of the Birds and Habitats Directives were published on 16 December 2016. They confirmed that the Nature Directives are fit for purpose but achievement of their objectives and realisation of their full potential will depend upon substantial improvement in their implementation both in relation to effectiveness and efficiency, working in partnership with different stakeholder communities in the Member States and across the EU to deliver practical results on the ground.

Based on the findings of the Fitness Check, the Action Plan was prepared by a project team of 10 Commissioners and also involving the Vice-President of the Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, given the key role that regional and local authorities play in the Directives’ implementation.

Compliments of the European Commission