The European Commission has decided to refer Slovakia to the Court of Justice of the EU for failing to correctly transpose Article 6 (3) of the Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC) and for failing to implement Article 6 (2) of the Habitats Directive and Article 4 (1) of the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC), as far as the Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), a large forest bird, and its habitat is concerned.
Article 6 (3) of the Habitats Directive requires that plans and projects not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a Natura 2000 site but likely to have a significant impact thereon, undergo an appropriate assessment of their effects on the site before their implementation. Slovak forests in Natura 2000 sites are facing high levels of logging, especially sanitary logging in reaction to forest disturbances such as bark beetle infestations or storm damage. However, Slovak legislation still does not ensure that sanitary logging activities, which might have a significant impact on Natura 2000 sites, undergo these assessments. At the same time, forest management plans are still in force which did not undergo such an assessment in the past.
The case also addresses the bad application of Article 6 (2) of the Habitats Directive concerning the need to avoid habitat deterioration and disturbance of a protected species. Since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004 the population of the Capercaillie has decreased by half within the 12 Special Protection Areas (SPA) classified for its protection under the Birds Directive. The main reason for this large decline has been the disappearance of suitable habitats due to logging. Slovakia adopted a Capercaillie rescue plan in which it acknowledged the decline and defined measures to stop it. Nevertheless, these measures in general have not been implemented, and logging has continued in the forests where the Capercaillie is present. The Commission therefore takes the view that Slovakia has not taken appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of the Capercaille's habitat and the significant disturbance of this species.
In addition, Article 4 (1) of the Birds Directive requires the adoption of special conservation measures for protected bird species. However, Slovakia has not yet adopted such conservation measures for seven of the 12 Special Protection Areas classified for the Capercaillie.
Today's decision follows a reasoned opinion sent to the Slovak authorities in January 2019. The Commission is concerned that even after the amendments of the Slovak nature and forest legislation the Habitats Directive is still transposed incorrectly, and there is still a risk of a further decline in Slovakia's Capercaillie population. The population of the bird species Capercaillie has decreased by 49,4 % within the 12 Special Protection Areas concerned since Slovakia's accession to the EU. The Commission has therefore decided to refer Slovakia to the Court of Justice of the EU.
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