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Commission starts legal action against 8 Member States over insufficient protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises  

European Commission Press Release

20th December 2005

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European Commission Press Release

Commission starts legal action against 8 Member States over insufficient protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises
The European Commission has launched infringement proceedings against eight member states for not adequately monitoring how effectively their populations of cetaceans - whales, dolphins and porpoises - are being protected.  All cetacean species require strict protection under the EU’s Habitats directive.  Member states’ surveillance of their conservation status is an important element in this.  The Commission considers that Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK have not established sufficiently effective surveillance systems.  It has sent these member states a first written warning - first step in the legal procedure - that they are breaching the Habitats Directive and need to take corrective action to ensure full protection of these marine mammals.

The Habitats Directive [1] treats all species of cetaceans as ‘species of Community interest’ - meaning that they are endangered, vulnerable, rare or in need of particular attention - and grants them strict protection.  In addition, the directive requires member states to designate special conservation areas for the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) and harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena).  Member states have monitored the conservation status of all the natural habitats and species the directive covers.

Following complaints about a lack of surveillance of the conservation status of cetaceans in France, the Netherlands and the UK, the Commission examined the situation in other member states with a coastline.

Belgium and the Netherlands have established surveillance systems for cetaceans but the Commission considers that their monitoring frequency, once every 10 years, is insufficient.  In the United Kingdom, surveillance activities are undertaken only in parts of its territorial waters, with the frequency of monitoring also insufficient.  France, Portugal and Spain undertake surveillance activities only in parts of their territorial waters and these actions do not cover all species of cetaceans.  Finally, Greece and Italy carry out only sporadic surveillance measures and lack a national strategy for such activities.

The Commission takes the view that, to be effective, surveillance of species’ conservation status must be undertaken at regular time intervals, concern all species of cetaceans and cover all areas where these species are present.  The surveillance system must also ensure that information is available on the level and range of the cetacean population so that its conservation status can be properly assessed.

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State.  This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law, and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice.  Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice.  The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
For current statistics on infringements in general see:

[1] COUNCIL DIRECTIVE (Habitats Directive) 92/43/EEC (pdf - 203kb)
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[1] Directive 92/43/EC