Cyprus Mail

Under pressure, Juncker keeps EU birdlife protection intact

A hugely successful campaign to leave the popular EU Birds and Habitats directives in place forced Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to abandon an overhaul of the law which he had advocated for from 2014, according to three local environmental groups.

BirdLife Cyprus, the Cyprus Conservation Foundation Terra Cypria and Friends of the Earth Cyprus welcomed the European Commission,s decision which ends two years of uncertainty.

“This is the result of half a million citizens who asked the Commission to save and enforce the law. This is good news for the Akamas, Limni and all endangered areas belonging to the Natura 2000 network in Cyprus, and this decision confirms that adequate protection and management of the areas is vital,” Lefkios Sergides from Terra Cypria said.

He added these laws are essential for the protection of more than 1,400 endangered species in Europe and to protect more than one million square kilometres of natural areas, adding “in Cyprus, 63 sites are included in the Natura 2000 network, but many of them are threatened by unsustainable development.”

Environmental organisations point out that there is much work to be done so that this decision is a real victory for the nature of Europe, explaining it needs to be strictly enforced.

“The message of the campaign is clear: we must protect nature effectively for our own prosperity. Both in the EU and in Cyprus an effective management of Natura 2000 areas and more than that, must begin. This should also include a radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to ensure that agricultural practices harmful to the environment are no longer supported,” Martin Hellicar from BirdLife commented.

A 2015 study by BirdLife International provides estimates of annual illegal killing in a number of Mediterranean countries. The number is 5.4 million in Italy, Cyprus is second with 2.3 million, far ahead of 0.7 million in Greece, 0.5 million per year each in France and Croatia.

On November 1, 2014 Jean-Claude Juncker had sent a letter to environment commissioner Karmanu Vella, trying to set the ball for a change in the Birds and Habitats law, the oldest environmental law in the EU, in motion. His idea was to make the laws more business friendly, saying “protecting the environment and maintaining our competitiveness can go hand-in-hand,” and asking Vella to “develop environmental innovations which our industries can successfully implement and export.” In this context, Juncker further requested that Vella “carry out an in-depth evaluation of the Birds and Habitats directives and assess the potential for merging them into a more modern legislation.”

However, an EU commission report from March 2016, the ‘Evaluation study to support the Birds and Habitats directives’ supports the law which includes a general ban on marketing and large-scale hunting and cites the BirdLife study, saying this shows there are substantial levels of killing in several European countries.

Of 550,000 people who took part in an online consultation an overwhelming majority of 520,000 called for the laws to remain as they are.

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