Conservation science as an antidote to EU conservation politics (mis-) guided by interests
Bonn, Nairobi, New York, Washington, Gland, Paris - the geography of decision-making in international conservation policy is complex, and one of the most influential hubs is Brussels. It is the birthplace of the EU Birds and the Habitats Directives that underlie Natura 2000, the world’s most ambitious site-based conservation project. Their implementation, however, has been accompanied by a background noise of political struggles. And this ado is currently growing. With his rise to power in 2014, the new Commission President Juncker programmed a “Fitness Check” for the two EU conservation directives. Among conservation advocates, this assessment is feared to serve as an excuse for softening the directives and reversing important achievements made under considerable efforts. The Policy Committee (PC) of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Europe Section thinks scientific information is badly needed in the ongoing battle of interests and opinions. Thus, we decided this year’s PC meeting should make the Society visible on the spot as a unique stakeholder that can feed tested “top runner” scientific evidence into this and other important debates.
On 26 and 27 May, facilitated by Belgian PC member Willem Laermans’ brilliant logistical coordination, we met with delegates of the European Parliament, Commission representatives as well as Brussels-based conservation advocates from the NGO sphere. As we had hoped, Micheal O’Briain, Deputy Head of the Nature Unit at Directorate-General Environment, was willing to give us a comprehensive overview of the “Fitness Check” and its uses and misuses. We agreed the Society’s Europe Section should participate in the ongoing public consultation, possibly including an in-depth comment on the different Fitness Check questions under scrutiny. The value of such a contribution was confirmed by a delegation of BirdLife International, led by its Head of EU Policy, Ariel Brunner. With BirdLife, we also discussed cornerstones of a possible strategic collaboration between our institutions. We are glad Trees Robijns, Birdlife’s Senior EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer, will be able to attend the upcoming ICCB-ECCB 2015 in August this year.
Agriculture was also in the focus of our meeting with the German Members of Parliament Maria Heubuch (Greens), Susanne Melior and Maria Noichl (both Socialists & Democrats). Our exchange addressed the failed “greening” reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy. The exchange proved so fruitful that this can certainly be considered the start of a continued dialogue in the future. We are also deeply grateful to Maria Heubuch for hosting us and helping us to make our Brussels trip a success.
Another meeting brought us together with Karin Zaunberger and Nicholas Hanley (both DG Environment) as well as Arnold Jacques de Dixmude (DG International Cooperation and Development). They are involved in efforts directed at a better conservation and sustainable development in the EU’s Overseas Territories and Outermost Regions, a conglomerate of small to large territories that cover the same area as the “core” EU, but which are spread across the globe. We explored options how the Society and its worldwide expert network may add value to these European activities. Mrs Zaunberger confirmed she will take part in a round-table discussion on EU Overseas Territories at the ICCB-ECCB 2015.
The Roadless Areas Initiative, initiated by our Policy Committee in 2007, was another important item of our agenda in Brussels. While the Roadless Areas Initiative has flourished into an activity across SCB sections since then, we think it is also time to reach out beyond the scientific community to policy-makers. Our Brussels visit thus marked the onset of a dialogue with DG Mobility and Transport. With Judit Bertrand, who is involved in coordination of the Trans-European Transport Networks TEN-T, we had a promising brainstorming exercise how transport planning in the EU may start to take into account the remaining roadless areas.
We are looking forward to our next meeting at the ICCB-ECCB 2015 in two months in Montpellier. Symposia organised by the Policy Committee of SCB’s Europe Section will follow up on Natura 2000, the Common Agriculture Policy, roadless areas and more. Be there and check them out!
(Chair of the Policy Committee of the Society for Conservation Biology - Europe Section)
|The Policy Committee at the main entrance to the European Parliament in Brussels, 26 May 2015. From right to left: Willem Laermans, Martin Dieterich, Zdenka Křenova, Per Sjögren-Gulve, Guy Pe’er, Stefan Kreft|