EU takes action to protect Europe’s biodiversity

The European Commission said on February 9 that it was taking legal action against 15 member states to step up the prevention and management of invasive alien species.

According to the Commission, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia n have not established, implemented and communicated to the Commission by July 2019 their action plans under Regulation 1143/2014 to tackle the most invasive alien species of Union concern. These species cause such serious environmental and health damage that they justify the adoption of measures applicable throughout the EU.

Infringement proceedings against Bulgaria, Greece and Romania also concern the failure to set up a monitoring system for invasive alien species of Union concern; the deadline for this step was passed in January 2018. In addition, the Commission calls on Greece and Romania to put in place fully operational structures to carry out the official controls necessary to prevent the intentional introduction into the Union of invasive alien species, the Commission said.

Invasive alien species are one of the top 5 causes of biodiversity loss in Europe and worldwide. These are plants and animals that are accidentally or deliberately introduced as a result of human intervention into a natural environment where they are not normally found. They pose a major threat to native plants and animals in Europe, causing damage estimated at €12 billion per year to the European economy.

According to the Commission, Regulation 1143/2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species requires Member States to identify and manage the pathways through which invasive alien species are introduced and propagated. A large proportion of invasive alien species are introduced unintentionally into the Union. It is therefore crucial to prioritize and manage unintentional introduction pathways more effectively, based on estimates of the volume of species and the potential impact of these species. Examples of such pathways include living organisms that are accidentally transported in ballast water and sediment by ships, by angling or other fishing gear when fishermen travel overseas, or by containers used in international trade; pests of traded plants or timber that go unnoticed; and others. Despite progress in prioritizing pathways, implementation still lags behind in most Member States. So far, only 12 Member States have developed, adopted and communicated to the Commission their action plans to tackle the main pathways of invasive alien species.

Regulation 1143/2014 entered into force on 1 January 2015 and focuses on species considered to be of “Union concern”. This currently includes 66 species, for example plants such as water hyacinth and animals such as the Asian hornet or raccoon, which pose a risk at European level. Member States are required to take effective measures to prevent the intentional or unintentional introduction of these species into the EU; to detect them and take rapid eradication measures at an early stage of the invasion; or if the species are already widely established, take action to eradicate, control or prevent their spread.

In this context, the preventive action that is the subject of today’s infringement proceedings is an essential investment because it is much more effective and less costly to prevent the introduction of invasive species than to treat and to mitigate the damage once it spreads, the Commission said.

The European Green Deal and the European Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 both underline the importance for the EU to put nature on the path to recovery by 2030 by protecting and restoring healthy ecosystems.

The Commission said it was providing continued support to member states to properly implement existing laws, using its enforcement powers where necessary. This is crucial for the protection of nature in the EU, so that citizens can rely on its services across the Union.

The Commission said it sent letters of formal notice on this matter to 18 Member States in June 2021. As the replies received from the 15 Member States mentioned above were not satisfactory, the Commission decided to issue reasoned opinions . The countries concerned have two months to respond and take the necessary measures, failing which the cases may be brought before the Court of Justice.

Impact on health, environment and economy

There are at least 12,000 alien species in the European environment, of which 10-15% are invasive. Invasive alien species can cause local extinction of native species, for example through competition for limited resources such as food and habitats, interbreeding or the spread of disease. They can alter the functioning of entire ecosystems, compromising their ability to provide valuable services, such as pollination, water regulation or flood control. The Asian hornet, for example, accidentally introduced to Europe in 2005, feeds on native bees, reduces local biodiversity of native insects and impacts pollination services in general.

Invasive alien species often have significant economic impacts, reducing yields from agriculture, forestry and fisheries. For example, American comb jelly which was accidentally introduced into the Black Sea has been responsible for a sharp decline in as many as 26 commercial Black Sea fish stocks, including anchovy and Spanish mackerel. Invasive species can damage infrastructure, impede transportation or reduce water availability by blocking waterways or clogging industrial water lines, the Commission said.

Invasive alien species can also be a major problem for human health, causing serious allergies and skin problems, for example, burns from giant hogweed, and acting as vectors for dangerous pathogens and diseases, for example the transmission of diseases to animals and humans by raccoons. .