(CN) - Europe's Court of Justice upheld the thrust of an environmental directive aimed at conserving natural habitats across Europe.
The EU Habitats Directive, a conservation framework, includes the Natura 2000 network of protected sites. For the network, member states submit sites to the European Commission for conservation consideration.
The port city of Papenburg feared that the environmental initiative might affect the Meyer-Werft, a shipyard on the Ems River in Lower Saxony. Despite having approved dredging there in 1994, Germany in 2006 submitted downriver areas for consideration under the Habitats Directive.
The Meyer-Werft specializes in building cruise liners, and the river must be specially dredged every time a deep ship navigates from the shipyard to the North Sea.
Papenburg sought to prevent the German government from agreeing to the European Union's placement of the area in the protected sites network, or an exemption to the requirement for an environmental assessment at the site if it did make the network.
The German court asked the European Union's high court to clarify when a member state may refuse to agree to a draft list of protected sites, and if pending Ems River dredging should be subject to an environmental assessment.
The Court of Justice ruled that conservation objectives must direct the treatment of a proposed site; member states may only refuse their inclusion based on environmental grounds, and not for economic, social or regional reasons.
If the pending dredging, though approved before the EU directive, is distinct from other dredging projects on the river, it must undergo environmental review, the Court of Justice ruled, as that would likely affect the environment.
If the upcoming work is part of regular maintenance for the purpose of navigability, it could be considered a single project. If such a project was federally authorized before passage of the EU directive, no assessment would be required.
Any project proposed at a place on the list of protected sites must not cause harm to the natural habitats there. Once a site is listed, ecological risks must be assessed and avoided, the court concluded.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.