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The Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) led to the setting up of a network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), which together with the existing Special Protection Areas (SPAs, from the Birds Directive, Directive 2009/147/EC) form a network of protected sites across the European Union, called Natura 2000.
The provisions of the Directive require Member States to work out a range of measures including the protection of species listed in the Annexes. For the first time, it introduced for protected areas the precautionary principle. This implies that projects can only be permitted when competent national authorities have ascertained – following the outcome of an appropriate environmental assessment – that no adverse effect on the integrity of the site will take place. Projects may still be permitted if there are no alternatives, and there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest. In such cases the Directive requires that compensation measures will be taken to ensure the overall integrity of the network.
In the context of the development of a new Strategy on Raw Materials, the Non-Energy Extractive Industry Panel (NEEIP) repeatedly raised the issue of permitting in and around Natura 2000 to the European Commission. In March 2008 the Commission launched an initiative to link the objectives of the Natura 2000 Network and the NEEI by developing a “guidance document on the NEEI and Natura 2000”.