European Legislation

Current European Legislation

The most important pieces of European legislation on biodiversity are:

  • Birds and habitat directives: these directives ensure a network of protected areas. The network is called the Natura 2000 network. Economic activity is possible only in very few cases in these areas.
  • Water Framework Directive: this directive ensures a good ecological status of aquatic ecosystems. This directive targets all inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater.
  • The Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) establishes a common framework for liability aiming at preventing and remedying damage to animals, plants, natural habitats, soils and water resources based on the "polluter pays” principle. The directive holds all companies that operate in the EU are liable in the categories biodiversity damage, water pollution, soil and land contamination. The biodiversity damage, defined by the ELD, does not embrace biodiversity as a whole, but is limited to damages to protected bird species, animal and plant species or habitats. In case of an environmental damage, the accountable business is responsible for the planning and implementation of the rehabilitating measurements, and the public authorities are responsible for ensuring that the operators responsible take or finance the necessary preventive or remedial measures themselves. It is advisable for companies to estimate their potential risks or impacts on the environment beforehand. During the last years, more and more insurance companies offered a new insurance model which protects companies against high costs of environmental damages.
  • The EU Biodiversity Strategy seeks to stop the loss of biodiversity and improve the state of Europe’s species, habitats, ecosystems and the services they provide over the next decade. Halting the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020 and restoring them in so far as feasible is seen as the main contribution of the EU to averting global biodiversity loss.
  • The Environmental Assessment (EA) provides a general framework that requires a company to assess the current status of the environment, predict the future state of the environment and propose actions to avoid, reduce and mitigate for negative impacts, and potentially offsetting residual impacts.

You can find a more exhaustive list of European legislation related to biodiversity here.

Key messages

The most important pieces of European legislation and strategies influencing biodiversity are: 

  • Bird and habitat directives that form the Natura 2000 network 
  • The EU Water Framework Directive for clear waterbodies 
  • The Environmental Liability Directive for compensating for environmental damage
  • The EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • The Environmental Assessment to assess potential damage arising from industrial projects