Friday 13 October 2006
The European Commission has decided to pursue legal action against Spain over three breaches of EU laws designed to protect birds and wildlife. Two cases concern the impact of the development of road projects on wildlife – the Iberian Lynx in the Doñana area (Andalucia) and various species in the area of 'Encinares del río Alberche y río Cofio' (Madrid region). The third case is brought to prevent illegal hunting of migrant birds in spring in the province of Vizcaya following a previous decision of the Court of Justice. In the Iberian Lynx and in the spring hunting case, the Commission is warning Spain for the last time that Court action will be taken unless the breaches cease. Environment Commission Stavros Dimas said:"Faillure to protect birds and natural habitats may ultimately lead to the extinction of species. Member States must respect EU nature protection legislation if the EU is to reach its objective of halting biodiversity loss on its own territory, and significantly reducing biodiversity loss globally, by 2010."
In the first case, the Commission is sending a final written warning asking Spain to take sufficient and effective measures to protect species threatened by the upgrading of a former rural track from Villamanrique de la Condesa to El Rocío in the region of Andalucia. The road passes through the Doñana area, an area designated as a Special Area for Conservation under the EU’s Habitats Directive, which aims at protecting natural habitats and species.
The protection measures already implemented by the Spanish authorities are not sufficient to safeguard the wildlife in the area, in particular the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). Upgrading the rural track to a trunk road has split in two the natural habitat of many species. The Iberian lynx is particularly affected and existing measures have not prevented significant numbers being fatally hit, a fact which threatens the survival of a species that is already in danger of extinction.
Once distributed over all of Spain and Portugal; the Iberian lynx is now the world's most threatened species of cat, restricted to small areas, including the Doñana area. The case is an example of the delicate balance between species conservation and the development of infrastructure projects which entail the disappearance and fragmentation of important habitats.
In the second case, concerning works for the widening and upgrading of the M-501 road in the Madrid Region, the Commission is sending Spain a first written warning. The Commission considers that Spain has split the works of the M-501 road into five separate sub-projects. No assessment of the combined effects of the sub-projects has taken place and for one of the sub-projects, no assessment at all has been carried out.
In identifying the location of the works, Spain has not sufficiently taken into account the effects of the works on surrounding natural areas, in particular on birds and animal species in the area known as 'Encinares del río Alberche y río Cofio', which contains sites protected under EU nature protection laws. The authorization of this project by Spain poses a risk of seriously compromising the ecological characteristics of the sites, leading to the fragmentation of the habitats and the disappearance of priority species present on the site. Spain has one month to respond to the points raised in the Commission’s letter.
Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.
If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.
In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law, and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.
If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.