The end of a long wait: EU legislative proposal on IAS published

On 9th September, the European Commission published its long-waited proposal for EU legislative action on invasive alien species (IAS). This proposal marks an important milestone in the development of an EU-wide response to tackle IAS, a response that has been in the making close to a decade.

The legislative proposal takes the form of a Regulation, effective immediately in the Member States after its foreseen adoption in 2016. The aim of the proposed Regulation is to protect native biodiversity and ecosystem services from risks posed by IAS, as well as to minimize and mitigate the negative socio-economic impacts of IAS, such as impacts on human health.

IEEP has played an active role in supporting the development of EU policy framework for IAS since the very beginning. As a culmination of these efforts, the proposed Regulation builds on a range of insights by IEEP-led team of European and international experts, such as the widely quoted EUR 12 billion estimate for the socio-economic costs of IAS in the EU and the suggested prioritisation of IAS based on the level of risks and scale of impacts, ranging from the individual Member States to the whole of EU.

Building on the above, in the heart of the proposed Regulation is the concept of ‘invasive alien species of Union concern’ referring to IAS whose negative impact has been deemed such as to require concerted action at the EU level. The proposal provides for three types of actions to address IAS of Union concern; prevention, early warning and rapid response, and the management of established species. Of these, prevention is highlighted as the most efficient and cost-effective means to address IAS. For example, in terms of intentional introductions, IAS of Union concern will be subject to a wide range of bans, including trade and sales both to and within the EU. In terms of unintentional introductions, Member States will be obligated to establish and implement action plans to address priority pathways for introduction of IAS, focusing on IAS of Union concern.

The proposal also recognises ‘invasive alien species of Member State concern’, that is IAS which are not problematic at the Union level but which Member States consider posing a significant threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services on their national territory. However, the set of concrete measures related to IAS of Member States concern rather narrow, mainly providing opportunities to limit their intentional release.

The proposed Regulation provides a solid legislative basis for the long-awaited EU response to IAS. It also puts forward a number of concrete measures to address risks posed by IAS such as trade bans, restrictions on intentional release and action plans for controlling IAS pathways. However, it does seem to fall short in addressing the IAS problem as a whole, putting emphasis on a rather narrow set of species identified as IAS of Union concern. In particular, in order to regulate the foreseen extent and costs of required Member State actions the proposal initially limits the number of identified IAS of EU concern to 50 species. As pointed out by many, this cap seems very low, given that there are 12,000 alien species already present in Europe. The capping of IAS of EU concern, together with the rather limited number of provisions for IAS of Member State concern, raises the question how effective the Commission’s proposal will be in addressing the increasing problem.

The proposed Regulation will now enter into discussions at different EU institutions. It will be interesting to see how these discussions, including the responses of the Council and the Parliament, might affect the scope – and even the overall fate – of the proposal.