After the very interesting discussion held during the conference, and using my experience as an employee (since 1997), and coordinator (in HOS - Birdlife Greece, since 2003) of Life projects in Greece (we have submitted more than 15 proposals so far, as an NGO or as local stakeholders), and having a rather good assessment of the situation concerning the funding and management of Biodiversity and Natura related issues in Greece but also in Cyprus, Bulgaria and more, I will make the following proposal for an objective funding mechanism, directly linked with the EU biodiversity.
We all know, that not all EU countries have the same level of intitutional, administrational and organisational capacity, political will, funds and human resources devoted to the protection of nature and biodiversity. In fact, for many countries, not necessarily only the new MS, Life funding is the only reliable mechanism for this topic. The strong point of Life, for these countries is that proposal selection, funding and monitoring of implementation comes directly from Brussels and thus, it can overpass a number of weaknesses in the national systems. The weak point of this approach is that it lacks a strategic vision per country and that most of the funded projects, need a lot of co-financing which is very difficult to be safeguarded, due to the lack of national mechanisms and will. But even with this weaknesses, Life is better than nothing and certainly far better than funds coming through structural funds or any other of EU funding that is being allocated through national authorities.
On the other hand, we have a great number of EU countries, mainly old member states and northern european countries, where the level of national authorities organisation, the capacity and stakeholder involvement and the national funding opportunities are high, compared to the previously described situation. Countries which can very much proliferate from a number of funding opportunities (such as the Rural Development Regulation, or the Interreg programme) to appropriately plan and fund their biodiversity and protected areas systems, without needing the persistent acute eye of the European Commission to safeguard the proper implementation of the relevant projects.
European biodiversity conservation is a topic which demands for coordinated action from all countries and not just from the most developed and capable ones. In fact, usually most biodiversity is linked with the less developed MS. The share of each country in the responsibility for biodiversity conservation can be assessed objectively, through a set of scientific criteria and in relation to the surface area of the Natura network. The level of each country's organisational capacity to plan, and efficiently implement biodiversity conservation measures and Natura 2000 site management, can also be objectively assessed through a set of criteria which could be developed for this reason.
My proposal would be that funds for each member state should be relevant to each country's share in the EU biodiversity resources and allocated for each programmatic period (e.g 5-10 years) as a total amount per annum. The shares of a) the Commission handled Life funding and b) for the nationally handled other relevant EU funds, should be decided according to the assessment of the country capacity to plan and implement the identified priorities for action. In this manner, EU countries could be divided in 2-3 categories, where the most capable ones will be able to plan and implement directly their programmes (more weight in case b), while the less capable ones will have more help and intervention from the Commission (more weight in case a). The total sums of money will be the same but the efficiency of the system would be greatly enhanced. At the same time, the work load on behalf of the Life Unit would probably decrease and the competition for funds among stakeholders from the capable countries and those from the less capable, will become much more fair.
Although a bit complicated to be planned at the initial stage, I believe that this system would provide a real EU added value for the Natura 2000 network, and our biodiversity and at the same time will help us all to train our administration to improve their capacity so that to change the category of the funding mixture after some years.