The European Commission has today responded to calls to slim-down its approach to regulation as opinion polls across the continent suggest that citizens feel that Brussels is out of touch with them. It is strange, to say the least, that they’ve decided to do this in an area in which those same opinion polls tell us that European citizens support international action - the environment. Environmental action is, after all, one of the areas where EU action has brought conspicuous benefits to people across the continent.

The Commission’s ‘Refit’ approach – in which they plan to analyse whether bits of European Legislation are over-burdensome on business – is being extended to include withdrawing important proposals to protect soils and improve the ability of people to get access to justice on local environmental issues. The Commission have also decided to take yet another look at an area where the case is already settled; the Natura 2000 network established by the Birds and Habitats Directives.

This network of protected sites plays a crucial role in protecting wild places and wildlife in the UK and across Europe. Many of RSPB’s reserves have been included in the Natura 2000 network, from Bempton Cliffs, home to over 200,000 seabirds, including gannets, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars, to Lake Vyrnwy, where amazing bird life and stunning scenery vie for attention. Perhaps the best example of the benefits of international protection for our wildlife is the found around our coasts and estuaries – places of global importance for the hundreds of thousands of migrating birds that are starting to arrive as they escape the Arctic winter.

Just last year, a thorough review by Defra in the UK showed that “in the large majority of cases the implementation of the Directives is working well, allowing both development of key infrastructure and ensuring that a high level of environmental protection is maintained.” In fact if there is a problem, it’s a lack of proper implementation, which means that the full benefits aren’t achieved for people, wildlife and planners. We fully expect that the European Commission will come to the same conclusion. When you ask the same question twice, why expect a different answer?

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