Note of meeting held at the offices of
the United Kingdom Permanent Representative
to the European Union, Brussels, on Wednesday 21 April 1999
|Present:||The Earl of Cranbrook
|The Countess of Mar
|Mr Carlos Martin-Novella (European Commission, DG XI)
|Mr Micheal O'Briain (European Commission, DG XI)
|Mr Thomas Radice (Clerk to Sub-Committee C)
Convention on Biological Diversity
1 Mr Martin-Novella explained that he
was the official responsible for co-ordinating the 1992 Convention
on Biological Diversity within the European Commission.
2 The Convention was a legally binding instrument;
EU Member States were parties to it individually, as well as the
Community in its own right. The Community was a leading force
in implementing the Convention: it had full competence in some
policy areas relevant to the Convention, such as agriculture and
fisheries, while in other areas of policy competence was mixed
or lay with the Member States. Within the Commission, DG XI
(since renamed DG Environment) took the lead.
3 Key documents were the Commission's Communication
of February 1998 on a European Community Biodiversity Strategy
(endorsed by the Council on 4 October 1998) and the Commission's
First Report on the Implementation of the Convention on Biological
Diversity by the European Community.
4 As the First Report indicated, over 70 Community
Directives and Regulations were relevant to the Convention. The
main gaps identified were instruments to ensure integration of
biodiversity in agriculture, transport and other policy areas.
5 The Commission had been charged with the task
of presenting a series of sectoral and cross-sectoral biodiversity
action plans to the Council and European Parliament early in 2000;
these action plans would be complementary to the national biodiversity
strategies prepared by Member States under the terms of the Convention,
and might include proposals for legislative measures. An interim
progress report to the Council and the Parliament on the implementation
of the Community Biodiversity Strategy
was due to be presented in June 1999: the Commission's services
were on target for this, although progress could be affected by
the process of appointing new Commissioners.
6 Relations with the World Trade Organisation
were complicated, although in principle the Convention and the
WTO should be mutually supportive. The Commission had had some
success in securing support for its policies on biodiversity from
The Birds Directive, the Habitats Directive and
7 Mr O'Briain explained that he had policy
responsibility for implementation of the 1979 Birds Directive
and the 1992 Habitats Directive, the objective of which was the
creation of the Natura 2000 network of Sites of Community Importance.
8 Progress in establishing the network was regularly
reported in the "Natura Barometer" chart, included in
the Commission's Natura 2000 newsletter.
Progress among the Member States had been patchy: DG XI felt that
the UK had done comparatively well, though its approach had erred
on the side of selectivity, with a focus on core areas without
making use of "buffer zones".
9 The criteria for site designation would be
discussed at the series of seminars to be held by biogeographic
region (the Atlantic Region seminar would be held in Ireland in
September 1999). For SPAs under the Birds Directive it was a comparatively
straightforward task to compile inventories of important bird
areas. For SACs under the Habitats Directive the task was more
complex. Annex III of the Directive contained some guidelines;
and the European Nature Topic Centre in Paris had helped to develop
criteria, overseen by a committee of Member States' representatives.
Criteria for designating coastal sites (and, within the UK, the
Cairngorms) had given rise to most controversy. The importance
of adherence to strictly scientific criteria was stressed.
10 It was estimated that Natura 2000 sites would
account for some 15% of the current territory of the EU. It would
be dangerous, however, to set indicative percentages for individual
Member States' designations.
11 Concern about nature conservation was widespread
in the EU, although Spain, Ireland and France recorded higher
levels of citizens' complaints than the UK. About 50% of the complaints
referred to DG XI by the European Parliament's Petitions Committee
were on nature conservation matters. These created a potential
overload problem for the Commission. It was better if people could
exhaust national remedies first before having recourse to the
12 The financial instrument LIFE, of which half
went on nature conservation (mainly on demonstration projects)
was a useful tool but its scope was limited. There was a need
for more financial support through other programmes, e.g. as proposed
under Agenda 2000.
Comments on the Sub-Committee's invitation for
13 Some further comments were offered by both
speakers on the Sub-Committee's invitation for evidence:
44 COM (98) 42 Final. Back
Office for Official Publications of the European Communities,
Luxembourg, 1998, ISBN 9282828999. Back
Since published as Commission Staff Working Paper European
Community Biodiversity Strategy: Progress Report on its Implementation,
June 1999, SEC(1999)1290, 4 August 1999. Back
For a general description of the process and progress up to summer
1999, see the 18th Report (1998-99) of the House of Lords European
Communities Committee, Biodiversity in the European Union:
Interim Report (United Kingdom Measures), HL Paper 100, paragraphs