BirdLife Cyprus has said last week’s letter from the European Commission criticising Cyprus’ ‘systematic failure’ to protect Natura 2000 areas is evidence that Cyprus is still at the starting point over nature protection.
“The timing is not random, given the overwhelming pressures on Natura 2000 areas, ranging from Cape Greco to Akamas,” BirdLife said in announcement on Tuesday.
The bird welfare NGO has faced a backlash, and praise, after it launched a petition two weeks ago to stop the proposed Paphos-Polis motorway, which would slice through the Ezousa Valley, a Natura 2000 zone.
In their announcement, BirdLife echoed sentiments expressed by the EU Commission in their letter.
“Fifteen years after Cyprus’ accession to the EU, our country is still at the starting point when it comes to nature protection,” BirdLife said.
They expressed frustration over the fact that the cabinet often rules development projects in the “public interest”. This mechanism overrules studies which reveal such projects would significantly harm protected natural areas.
In its letter to the government, the commission said that Cyprus has “generally and persistently failed to ensure that its authorities subject plans or projects to appropriate assessment of their implications on the Natura 2000 sites.”
The commission then gave Cyprus two months to explain how it intends to comply with the Habitats Directive, otherwise the commission may decide to send a Reasoned Opinion to Cyprus, bringing it one step closer to being brought before the European Court of Justice.
“Fines are a necessary measure, and ultimately it’s good that they’re there,” Martin Hellicar of BirdLife told the Cyprus Mail.
“But the problem is that fines are paid by the tax-payers and not by developers which often get the greenlight from the government,” he added.
Under the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive, EU member states must carry out assessments as to whether development projects would endanger Natura 2000 areas. The commission has pointed out that Cyprus has persistently failed in this regard.