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Message from Athens:hope for the planet, homework for politicians


28 Apr 2009


Climate & Environment
Health & Consumers

High-level meeting sends strong backing for EU nature legislation, but disappoints on sectoral policy reform
European NGOs outline key asks for future policy framework and ask Barroso to turn words into action

Athens 28 April 2009 – In reaction to the ‘Message from Athens’ adopted today at a high-level biodiversity conference organised by the European Commission in Athens [1], BirdLife International [2] welcomed the strong calls made by key decision makers to stop the loss of animal and plant species, and the sense of urgency reflected in the discussions. BirdLife is pleased that the fundamental role, and the successes, of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and of the Natura 2000 network are emphasised in the conference conclusions [3].

However, BirdLife still sees a huge gap between aspirations and real action, and criticises that the “Message from Athens” remains vague and not ambitious enough regarding needed policy reform (e.g. it only talks of “reviewing” impacts of EU policies instead of changing these policies, and it asks to “reform” harmful subsidies, instead of ending them).

The real success of the Athens conference has to be measured against decisive follow-up. In 2010 EU and global leaders will have to adopt strong new biodiversity targets and strategies for the next decade.

At the conference the Commission confirmed that the EU is likely to fail its target set by governments back in 2001 to halt the decline of biodiversity by 2010 [4,5].

BirdLife praised Commissioner Dimas for his commitment for biodiversity during his term and progress made on nature conservation.

BirdLife’s message to the Commission President was mixed: “We welcome President Barroso’s strong opening speech in Athens. But if he gets re-appointed, we expect him to significantly improve the Commission’s environmental performance especially in sectoral policy reform – otherwise we will never be able to stabilise our ecosystems.” said Clairie Papazoglou, BirdLife’s Regional Director for Europe, who also spoke at the conference.[6]

BirdLife stated a number of great environmental disappointments under Barroso’s term, like the failed agriculture “health-check” and the dangerous biofuels target.

The Athens conference also set the alarm for the soon to be elected next European Parliament that will play a key role in decisions for, or against, the health of the planet [7].

“Decision makers have to wake up. In the 21st century short-term economic advantages and vested interests cannot rule policy. Otherwise we won’t cope neither with the economic, nor the environmental crisis.” said Dr. Papazoglou.

In Athens, BirdLife International and 16 other conservation NGOs united in the European Habitats Forum, have presented a package of nine necessary steps [8] the EU must take from 2010 onwards to safeguard the ”web of life” all humans depend upon. These steps include:

continue the success story of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, and the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, but improve implementation, enforcement, financing and communication;

adopt additional legislation on Invasive Alien Species and for the protection of soils and start an initiative towards coherent and sustainable land-use planning across the EU;

reform the EU agriculture and fisheries policies to make them deliver for a healthy environment, and limit the consumption of resources and land ;

reduce the negative impact of the EU on nature around the globe – make all products traded on the EU market sustainable and support poor countries in strengthening their ecosystems so they can better adapt to climate change

On the same occasion BirdLife and FACE (Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU) have issued a common statement for strong EU action for biodiversity beyond 2010. [9]



Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager, BirdLife European Division, Brussels, , +32 2 280 08 30

Herlinde Herpoel, Media & Communication Manager, BirdLife European Division, Brussels, , +32 494 542 844

Notes for the editor

[1] Athens, 27-28 April 2009: ‘Biodiversity protection beyond 2010: priorities and options for future EU Policy’, a high-level conference organised by the European Commission.

[2] BirdLife International is a global alliance of national conservation NGOs working in more than 100 countries and territories that, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them. BirdLife is a recognized authority for reference data on sites (Important Bird Area inventories) and species (Red Lists).

[3] With the Birds and Habitats Directives, and the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, the EU has excellent legislation in place to reconcile the needs of nature conservation with those of human well-being and economic development. Natura 2000 is a network of priority sites for nature conservation, covering currently almost a fifth of the EU’s territory. EU Member States are implementing it following the framework provided by the so-called Birds and Habitats Directives. Natura 2000 sites are not fenced-off areas - on the contrary, sustainable and nature-friendly land-use is encouraged in these sites. More information on Natura 2000 at and from the European Commission at:

[4] See BirdLife’s reaction to the mid-term review of the Commission on its efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity at:

[5] According to BirdLife, a fundamental reason for this failure is the fact that EU governments lack the political will to implement and finance the EU’s world-class nature legislation, and that many are blocking urgently needed policy reforms, e.g. in the areas of agriculture and fisheries. For example, in 2008 the so called “Health-Check” of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) resulted in a “placebo treatment”: it did not provide the fundamental changes that are needed to reform the CAP into a sustainable rural development and land management policy (see, At the same time Member States have so far failed to adopt the long-needed Soils Directive.

[6] See speech of President Barroso at

[7] BirdLife is mobilising its European members and supporters to vote, and to check candidates against environmental priorities. BirdLife’s elections manifesto with its main asks for the next European Parliament can be downloaded here:
The European Parliament pages on the EU elections in June 2009 can be found here:

[8] The position of the European Habitats Forum can be downloaded here:

[9] The common statement of BirdLife and FACE can be downloaded here:


BirdLife International

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