In the Habitats Directive, it is explicitly stated that the competent authority should ascertain that no harm will be done to EU sites belonging to the Natura 2000 network before authorisation for further action is granted. A review of some of the national guidance documents concerning the Natura Assessment developed by EU Member States showed diversity in the scope and depth prescribed for the assessment.
A five-year review of screening decisions in Estonia demonstrated that the Habitats Directive and the respective EU guidelines are poorly applied. The majority of the EIA and SEA screening decisions in 2004–2009 did not consider the impacts on Natura 2000 sites.
Those decisions that did consider them addressed primarily the location-induced aspects of the proposed plan or project, with respect to the location of the relevant Natura 2000 site. Less than one third of decisions considered location, likely effects and their significance together. In the rest of the cases, the reasoning was missing or unclear.
Since the study demonstrated important deficiencies in the screening stage of the Natura Assessment, the Estonian EIA Act urgently needs to be modified to comply fully with the requirements of the Habitats Directive and to ensure that the conservation objectives of nearly 600 Estonian Natura 200 sites are not compromised.
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