Portugal in a flap over bird law
The European Court of Justice has found in favour of the EC after the commission complained that Portugal was not doing enough to protect steppe-land birds like the griffon vulture and eagle owl.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) gave judgement on 13 July 2006 in the case of Commission v Portugal (Case C-191/05).
The case arose following an application made by the Commission to the Court, seeking a declaration that, by altering the demarcation of the 'Moura, Mourao, Barrancos' Special Protection Area (SPA), thereby excluding from it areas providing a habitat for species of wild birds for whose protection that SPA was designated, Portugal had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 4(1) of the Wild Birds Directive (Directive 79/409/EEC).
Article 4(1) of the Directive require that species listed in Annex I to the Directive shall be the subject of special conservation measures concerning their habitat in order to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution, and to this end, Member States shall classify the most suitable territories in number and size as special protection areas for the conservation of these species.
The Portuguese Government accepted that despite the discretion placed on Member States in the implementation of Article 4(1), the boundaries for SPAs must be defined in accordance with the criteria laid down in the Directive.
However, the provisions of the Portuguese Decree-Law No 141/2002 permitted the alteration of the boundaries of the SPA concerned on the ground that that SPA included areas which were not important habitats for steppe-land birds.
While those areas subsequently excluded failed to provide a habitat for steppe-land birds, for whose protection they had been designated, they did however provide a habitat for other species of wild birds listed in Annex I to the Directive, namely the crane (Grus grus), the eagle owl (Bubo bubo), the black vulture (Aegypius monachus), the booted eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) and the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus).
In such circumstances, a Member State may not reduce the surface area of an SPA or alter its boundaries unless the areas excluded from the SPA are no longer the most suitable territories for the conservation of species of wild birds and therefore Portugal was held to be in breach of Article 4(1) of the Directive.
The full text of the judgement is available in English at the following