Commission acts to enforce EU habitats law

UK species protection rules too weak, Germany ignoring its hamsters, Commission says

The UK and Germany have been warned of impending court action by the European Commission over their implementation of the 1992 habitats directive. Both countries are to be issued with a "reasoned opinion," or second warning letter, the last step before the Commission applies for a judgement by the European Court of Justice.

Under the directive, member states have a general obligation to give extra protection from construction and infrastructure development to the breeding and resting places of endangered species. But according to the Commission, the UK's licensing system for allowing exemptions to these rules is too lax. "Licences seem to be issued as a formality after development consent...has been given, and do not appear to involve a careful weighing of the arguments for and against allowing damage to occur," it says.

In Germany's case the Commission is alleging failure to protect an endangered hamster species at several sites near Aachen in North-Rhine Westphalia. The habitats are being threatened by the construction of a transfrontier science and industry park on the Dutch border, EU funding for which is currently blocked while the issue is resolved.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and press releases concerning the UK and Germany.

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