State criticized for insufficient protection of Natura sites
The agriculture ministry has been criticized for its lack of progress in adequately protecting Natura 2000 areas, but this time from the state legal service.
For years, the Republic and the Ministry of Agriculture have been in hot water as they are accused of violating EU directives which provide for the protection of natural areas.
The commission has previously stated that the Republic “has generally and persistently failed to ensure that its authorities submit their plans or projects to a proper assessment of their implications for Natura 2000 sites”.
More recently, however, the Legal Department has also weighed – as reported by the Phileleftheros daily – and pressured the Agriculture Ministry to faithfully comply with relevant guidelines.
As Cyprus is already facing a procedure from the commission for non-compliance with the EU’s 1992 Habitats Directive, the Legal Service highlighted the delays that have occurred, such as expirations in the six-month period. years for the designation of special areas of conservation in 36 cases.
The government, since 2016, has also been accused by the commission of not setting adequate conservation targets and adopting conservation measures.
The Legal Service, in a letter to the Agriculture Ministry, said member states are not allowed to invoke their own law to justify failure to meet obligations and deadlines set in EU directives.
For its part, the ministry responded on Friday by declaring that significant progress had been made in the management of Natura 2000 sites.
“A number of remarkable projects are being implemented and significant resources are being made available for their proper management,” said the ministry’s announcement.
He further stated that the process of declaring sites of Community importance in special areas of conservation was completed in 34 of the 39 cases.
“The five that are pending concern new sites of Community importance, for which the six-year period required by the decree has not yet passed,” the ministry said.
Other protection mechanisms are underway, according to the ministry, noting that it has issued four decrees to put in place the legal framework for the protection of Natura 2000 sites.
This has been achieved in four cases so far, the ministry said, but three of them need to be revised because they were released in 2011. The latest decree is expected to be released in July.
Green groups and activists have long criticized encroachments on Natura 2000 protected sites, while many local community leaders cite the need for development to boost jobs in the region – especially in the Akamas region, sparsely populated.
The Paphos-Polis highway has emerged as a particularly contentious issue, with many communities in its path hoping for an economic boost through greater connectivity.
But NGOs, such as BirdLife Cyprus, have warned that the 31-kilometer-long highway, which will require at least five bridges and two tunnels, will dissect an unspoiled landscape of high ecological value, including the protected site of the Valley of Ezousa.