Special issue: Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure

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Credit: Stefan Möckel

With over 27,500 sites, Natura 2000 is the greatest nature conservation network in the world. It covers more than 18 percent of the land area in the European Union and around 395,000 km2 of its marine territory.

Projects and plans within those sites or in their vicinity require an appropriate assessment to ensure that they will not have a significant impact on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site, according to Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. The Natura 2000 appropriate assessment is the central statutory instrument for the protection of the network, in addition to the general prohibition of deterioration.

An assessment must take place prior to the authorisation and implementation of a project or a plan. As a result of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) having maximised the effectiveness of the assessment by a stringent legal interpretation, a project or a plan must be rejected by the competent authorities if there is any remaining reasonable scientific doubt that it might adversely affect the integrity of the site.

Nevertheless, in accordance with the European principle of proportionality, the Habitats Directive does not intend to ban all human activity in Natura 2000 sites. This is the reason why, on the one hand, only significant adverse impacts on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site are relevant and, on the other, according to Article 6(4) Habitats Directive, a derogating authorisation is possible in favour of public interests.

However, numerous questions, which are relevant in practice, have so far only been considered by national courts. A special issue recently published with the open access journal Nature Conservation features a comprehensive review of the relevant case-law of the German Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG), which has thoroughly dealt with the Natura 2000 regime in a long series of judgements.

The author, Dr. Stefan Möckel of the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH, Germany, is a long standing specialist in European and German nature conservation law. Within the four articles comprising the issue, he analyses the scope, procedural steps and requirements of the appropriate assessment and the derogation procedure. He also comments on the interpretations and practical solutions found by the ECJ and the BVerwG.

The first article explains the main steps and demands of the appropriate assessment. Questions on the scope of the terms "project" and "plan", as well as determining significant impacts are discussed in greater detail in the second and third article. The fourth paper explores the requirements needed for a derogation to be approved.

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Original source:

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network "Natura 2000" and the appropriate assessment for projects and plans under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 1-29. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13599

Möckel S (2017) The terms "project" and "plan" in the Natura 2000 appropriate assessment. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 31-56. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13601

Möckel S (2017) The assessment of significant effects on the integrity of "Natura 2000" sites under Article 6(2) and 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 57-85. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13602

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network "Natura 2000" and its derogation procedure to ensure compatibility with competing public interests. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 87-116. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13603

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