The French presidency of the Council from July to December 1989 is identified as one of the most important and influential in the development of the Habitats Directive.

The French presidency, under the leadership of France’s Green Minister for the Environment Brice Lalonde, fortuitously coincided with the UK’s opposition to the Directive falling away on the departure of arch Eurosceptic Nicholas Ridley from his role as Secretary of State for Environment, to be replaced by the pro-European Chris Patten. The UK then became a supporter of the Directive proposal. Similarly, Denmark’s position changed in this period from opposing the proposal to positive engagement.

Important legal developments in this period are discussed, including the first steps in what would be one of the most influential cases in the context of the negotiation of the Habitats Directive: Case C-57/89 Commission v. Germany (Leybucht dykes).

The French presidency’s revised Habitats Directive proposal is discussed in detail, including key changes to the site designation and site protection aspects. Amongst other things, France’s revised text abandoned the Commission’s proposal of amending the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive to apply that directive to sites designated under the Habitats Directive, and proposed instead a new standalone provision on impact assessment within the text of the draft Habitats Directive, which met with a favourable response. The coining of the now well-known term “appropriate assessment” is discussed.

In contrast to the French presidency, very little progress was made during the Irish and Italian presidencies in the period January to December 1990. The European Parliament demanded that the annexes of species and habitats be formally tabled in this period, and Commission President Delors intervened again with a view to blocking the Directive proposal – ultimately unsuccessfully.