Today, the European Commission decided to refer Greece to the Court of Justice of the EU over its failure to protect biodiversity adequately. While Greece has designated Special Areas of Conservation to protect natural habitats and species included in the Natura 2000 network, it has failed to establish the necessary conservation objectives and measures corresponding to the ecological requirements of the natural habitat types and of the species present in all these sites.
Under the Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC), Member States propose Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) that host the natural habitat types and habitats of species listed in the Directive. The list of sites is then adopted by the Commission, as a first step towards consolidating Natura 2000, the EU-wide network of protected natural areas. On 19 July 2006, the Commission adopted a list of 239 such sites for Greece.
After a site has been endorsed by the Commission, the Member State has 6 years to designate it as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and to establish conservation objectives and measures that will maintain or restore the protected species and habitats to a favourable conservation status. The 6-year deadline for Greece expired in July 2012 and Greece has still not established the necessary objectives and conservation measures for its Natura 2000 sites, compromising the integrity of the EU-wide network.
The Commission has repeatedly urged Greece to fulfil these obligations. A letter of formal notice was sent in February 2015, followed by a reasoned opinion in February 2016 and a further additional reasoned opinion in March 2018. To date, Greece has offered no timetable for the completion of the process. The Commission has therefore decided to bring the case before the Court of Justice of the EU.
The Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) requires the establishment of Natura 2000, an EU-wide network of protected natural areas, made of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and Special Protection Areas for birds (SPAs) under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC). Each Member State identifies and proposes sites that are important for the conservation of species and habitats occurring naturally in their territory.The Commission subsequently adopts them as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs). Member States then have up to six years to designate them as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and to introduce the necessary management measures to maintain or restore the species and habitats present to a favourable conservation status. These are key requirements to protect biodiversity across the EU and consequently these cases rank high on the enforcement agenda of the Commission.