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Auditor-general calls for accountability over Natura 2000 mess-up

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Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides on Monday called on the agriculture ministry to explain itself, following Cyprus’ referral to an EU court over failures to implement the Habitats Directive in environmentally protected Natura 2000 areas.

In a letter, the Audit Office called for officials to be held accountable in the issues raised by the European Commission.

Michaelides added he expected the minister’s comments, as well as “information on whether there will be final accountability taken by those who brought our country to this predicament”.

According to the letter, Michaelides informed the minister that the Audit Office had addressed the former agriculture minister Costas Kadis three years ago about the same topic.

He said that despite the former minister’s assurances that there were no grounds for concern and that all measures were taken to avoid further proceedings, the matter ended up before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

According to Michaelides, indicative of the obstructionism observed is that in the period between his warning in 2021, only ten conservation objectives decrees were issued on the subject, “half of which were considered by the European Commission to be inadequate”.

“Unfortunately, it appears that, once again, our office’s warnings have been ignored and its concerns have been confirmed,” the letter said.

In mid-March the European Commission referred Cyprus to the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) due to its failure to fulfil obligations under the Habitats Directive, which aims to protect over a thousand animal and plant species in the EU.

According to the European Commission, Cyprus has designated 37 sites as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

However, conservation measures for 28 of these sites have not been established and the conservation objectives for five sites are deemed inadequate, leaving species and habitats vulnerable.

Despite some progress regarding SAC designation, Cyprus has not adequately addressed the concerns raised by the commission, leading to the referral to the ECJ.

Responding to the developments in mid-March, the agriculture ministry said since the case opened, the government “has been in constant contact with EU authorities” and kept the commission informed at all times over Cyprus’ legal framework for environmental protection.

With the new minister’s appointment a few months ago, working groups between different government departments were set up “for the first time” with specific timetables to complete the framework on managing the Natura 2000 sites.

The Habitats Directive is a crucial component of European biodiversity protection legislation, mandating the establishment of Natura 2000, an extensive EU-wide network of protected natural areas comprising SACs and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds.

According to European law, member states identify and propose sites crucial for the conservation of native species and habitats, which are subsequently adopted as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) by the commission.

 

 

 

 

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