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Parliamentary questions
13 June 2018
E-002089/2018
Answer given by Mr Vella on behalf of the Commission

Under certain strict conditions, airgun activities can be compatible with the EU legal framework for the protection of the marine environment.

According to Article 6 of Directive 92/43/EEC(1), activities(2) can be authorised provided that, following an appropriate assessment, there are no adverse effects on the habitats or species for which the sites are designated. The directive affords strict protection to species(3), including marine ones, in their entire natural range: Member States must thus take all necessary measures to that effect, including, if need be, restricting certain airgun activities(4).

Directive 2008/56/EC(5) requires Member States to look at the pressures and impacts of all human activities on the marine environment. Underwater noise generated by airguns need to be considered by Member States when developing their marine strategies(6), if that pressure is relevant in their marine waters. Italy’s 2014 monitoring programme required further development to fulfil knowledge gaps(7) in relation to underwater noise, including impulsive noise from hydrocarbon extraction. Italy is expected to report on these gaps in its updates of the monitoring programmes in 2020.

Finally, Directive 2011/92/EU(8) requires Member States to ensure that, before consent is given to their development, projects(9) which are likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue, inter alia, of their nature, size or location are made subject to an assessment of their impacts.

In this context, the Commission recalls that alleged breach of environmental legislation can be pursued before national courts. The Commission provided further details on the redress mechanisms available at national level to pursue breaches on environmental legislation(10).

(1)Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, p. 7‐50. Article 6(2) provides for avoidance of habitat deterioration and significant disturbance of species in Natura 2000 sites and Article 6(3)(4) applies to plans and projects likely to have a significant effect on Natura 2000 sites.
(2)Such as the use of airguns, that may affect Natura 2000 sites (special areas of conservation under the Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC and special protection areas under Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds.)
(3)Species listed in Annex IV of the Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC, such as cetaceans or marine turtles.
(4)Article 12 of the Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC prohibits deliberate capture or killing of strictly protected species and disturbance and deterioration of their breeding sites or resting places.
(5)Directive 2008/56/EC, OJ L 164, 25.6.2008, p. 19‐40.
(6)In line with the criteria defined by Commission Decision (EU) 2017/848 of 17 May 2017 laying down criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters and specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment, and repealing Decision 2010/477/EU, OJ L 125, 18.5.2017, p. 43‐74.
(7)SWD(2017)1.
(8)Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, OJ L 26, 28.1.2012, p. 1‐2, as amended by Directive 2014/52/EU.
(9)defined in its Article 4.
(10)See the notice on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, C(2017) 2616 final.

Last updated: 14 June 2018Legal notice