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Overcoming institutional barriers


EU policies may not align easily with existing governance frameworks within the given policy area (so-called misfits), and the extent to which necessary adaptations take place, seem to depend on general compliance patterns. In VOLANTE, we studied the implementation of the Habitats Directive in member states that were selected based on an assumption of their different compliance cultures. We focused on the institutional barriers by analysing the timeliness of transposition, the relationship between the directive’s requirements and the existing nature conservation governance framework, the adaptations taking place and the perception of implementation barriers for various types of stakeholders. Following are examples of important challenges for implementation.

We found that already in the transposition stage important barriers could prevent later implementation by the lack of aligning the emerging policy framework to existing ones. This was exemplified in Greece, where conflicting interests between sector ministries resulted in overlapping regulation, and unclear roles in the administrative structures and responsibility. This was reinforced by overlapping spatial management units, as the Natura 2000 sites often overlapped with the many existing types of area protections – based on national policies and international conventions, which also led to incoherent site-specific regulation.  

Another aspect was the need to address the concurrent implementation of different but related policies. The study showed examples of the Habitats Directive implementation being affected by the implementation of the Nitrate Directive and the Water Framework Directive, in the Netherlands and in Denmark. This played out as challenges in the conception and stakeholder acceptance of the Natura 2000 management plans in the Netherlands, where the water table management and the nitrogen regulation influences the major part of the Natura 2000 areas, and in the desire by the Danish Government to implement the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive in a common process, which ultimately delayed the adoption of the Natura 2000 plans.

As an institutionally and economically challenged country, Romania met implementation problems related to the complexity of getting access to EU funding. An obstacle to farmer acceptance of the Natura 2000 network has been the time-related gap between restrictions on land management in Natura 2000 areas from the date of EU adoption of the site list, and the possibility to obtain economic compensation, e.g. from Rural Development Funds.

A further example is the agricultural abandonment in mountain areas and other landscapes with marginal agricultural potential, that has been an important process in European land use for many decades associated with scale enlargement in agricultural production, improved accessibility to global markets and agricultural policy reforms. Scenario projections of VOLANTE indicate that also in the next 25 years land abandonment will continue to be an important process changing Europe's landscapes. Agricultural abandonment leads to losses of rural employment, loss of cultural heritage landscapes, and loss of agro-biodiversity associated with extensive, small scale, agriculture. Abandoned lands can be invaded by invasive species and lead to increased forest fire risk. However, land abandonment can also lead to new natural areas, larger continuous natural habitats and the possibility of return of large mammals (re-wilding). Regrowth of vegetation can sequester carbon, help regulate streamflow and provide a range of other ecosystem services. The trade-off between the positive and the negative effects of agricultural abandonment is strongly location specific. VOLANTE made a typology of the differential trade-offs for all European areas facing abandonment. By targeting policy efforts to maintain farming to regions where losses are large upon abandonment and guiding abandonment in other regions towards desirable outcomes will help to increase efficient use of resources and optimise ecosystem service outcomes.


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