Commission v UK. Habitats Directive

The European Commission has given its judgement in the case of Commission v UK (Case C-6/04).

The case concerned a request by the Commission for a declaration of the Court that the UK had failed to adequately transpose the requirements of Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (the Habitats Directive). Under Article 23(1) of the Habitats Directive, the Member States were to bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the directive within two years of its notification (10 June 1992).

Following a Reasoned Opinion issued to the UK in July 2001, which contended that certain provisions of the Habitats Directive had not been correctly transposed, in particular its application to offshore oil and gas activities and its application beyond territorial waters, the UK informed the Commission of its intention to amend its legislation in order to establish greater legal certainty and clarity on a number of points at issue in the reasoned opinion. A further update was provided to the Commission in December 2003. However the Commission was not satisfied of progress made and therefore raised the current action.

While the UK argued that the most appropriate way of implementing the Habitats Directive is to confer specific powers on nature conservation bodies and to impose on them the general duty to exercise their functions so as to secure compliance with the requirements of the Directive, this was not upheld by the Court. Rather, where complex and technical legal issues are laid down such as within the Habitats Directive, the Member States are under a particular duty to ensure that their legislation intended to transpose the Directive is clear and precise, and includes the fundamental surveillance and monitoring obligations, such as those imposed on national authorities by Articles 11, 12(4) and 14(2) of the Directive. The legislation relied upon by the UK was found to be so general that it failed to give effect to the Habitats Directive with sufficient precision and clarity to satisfy fully the demands of legal certainty, and failed to establish a precise legal framework.

With regard to the claim that the UK had failed to extend the provisions of the Habitats Directive beyond territorial waters, the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001, clearly related only to the petroleum industry and were therefore not capable by themselves of transposing the Habitats Directive beyond UK territorial waters. In addition to various Article provisions, the UK was therefore found to have failed to transposed the whole of the Directive beyond its territorial water.

The full text of the case can be found at the following link:
curia.eu.int

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