Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

The EU phytosanitary system and the CBD guiding principles on invasive alien species

Jens-Georg Unger

Federal Biological Research Centre, Department of Plant Health, Messeweg 11/12, 38104 Braunschweig, Germany; e-mail:


The phytosanitary provisions and systems of the European Union (EU) and its member states have been fully harmonized since 1993. They are in place to minimize the introduction of alien organisms that are harmful to plants and plant products and to limit their spread within the community. The measures applied to imports and the internal movement of plants and plant products are based on directive 2000/29/EC of the Council of the European Union. Provisions include the prohibition or restriction of the import or internal movement of certain harmful organisms (quarantine pests) or of plants, plant products or other articles that may be pathways for these organisms. The systems include the national plant protection organizations of the member states, which are the main part of the official services of each state responsible for the implementation of the provisions. The provisions and required procedures for their implementation are developed and decided in different working groups and committees at the EU level. Furthermore, this framework includes an EU-wide early warning and pest reporting system and some specific obligations to limit the spread or to eradicate certain organisms that are not yet widespread in the community and harmful to plants and plant products. Thus the EU phytosanitary system provides an excellent framework for the implementation of measures against invasive alien species that are harmful to plants, plant communities and plants in any ecosystem. In principle, the EU system covers most of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s guiding principles on invasive alien species. The precautionary approach (principle 1), the three-stage hierarchical approach (principle 2), research and monitoring (principle 5), border control and quarantine measures (principle 7), cooperation including capacity building (principle 9), exchange of information (principle 8), intentional and unintentional introduction (principles 10 and 11) and the guiding principles 12-15 on measures against invasive alien species (mitigation of impacts, eradication, containment and control) are widely covered. However, the systems, including monitoring and research, need some adaptation concerning indirect plant pests and impacts on the uncultivated environment.


The phytosanitary provisions and systems of the member states of the European Union (EU) have been fully harmonized since 1993. Most of the measures have to be applied in the same way in all member states. They are decided in different groups of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, in particular by the Plant Health Standing Committee of the commission. This committee is empowered to decide on the specific phytosanitary measures and implementing provisions that are applicable in all member states.

In phytosanitary terminology, quarantine pests are organisms harmful to plants or plant products that are not widespread and under official control. According to the International Plant Protection Convention’s Interim Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, they are considered as invasive alien species if they have an impact on biodiversity in the plant sector (FAO, 2001). As quarantine pests are the core element of plant health regulations, the EU phytosanitary system provides an excellent framework for the implementation of the measures against invasive alien species in this sector.

This paper gives an overview of the main elements of the EU provisions and systems and the respective CBD guiding principles on invasive alien species (CBD, 2002; refer also footnote on page 7) that are implemented already by these provisions. Gaps and areas where intensified activity is required to ensure full implementation in this sector are identified and discussed at the end of each section.

Border control of imports and other pathways from non-EU countries

All EU member states are obliged to prohibit the import and internal movement of specified quarantine organisms, which are listed in annexes I and II of Council Directive 2000/29/EC (Council of the European Union, 2000), and of other alien organisms potentially harmful to plants. Traditionally, these organisms are plant pests directly harmful to plants or plant products, such as pathogenic bacteria or harmful insects (see later discussion on regulated organisms). There is usually no commercial interest in importing these organisms, hence their unintentional introduction or spread is the main problem rather than their intentional introduction. Thus, the EU plant health provisions reflect primarily the scope of preventing and controlling unintentional introductions.

Measures against unintentional introduction

All main pathways for alien harmful organisms affecting plants are regulated and controlled by the EU phytosanitary system in order to minimize the probability of introduction of these organisms. These pathways are mainly plants (and plant parts), plant products (including wood), wooden packaging and soil. If not already prohibited from import, such items are subjected to inspection at the EU borders on entry. All plants intended for planting or further cultivation as well as certain specified products such as cut flowers, vegetables and fruits have to be accompanied by a plant health certificate that complies with the model of the IPPC. This certificate has to be issued by the national plant protection organization of the exporting country in accordance with the EU import regulations and triggers the inspection procedure at import.

An optional clause in this plant health certificate requiring the substantial freedom from all kind of pests provides a general safeguard against risks not yet identified. So, too, various import prohibitions laid down in annex III of directive 2000/29/EC (e.g. those relating to soil and certain forest plants) offer a general safeguard in addition to addressing the specific risks for which they are designed. For many of the regulated articles in annex IV of this directive particular conditions are laid down to ensure that the articles are not contaminated by specific pests. Such conditions may be the requirement that the area of production be free from the quarantine organism or that the product be subjected to a specific treatment before export. Such requirements must be fulfilled on the exporting side under the control of the appropriate NPPO to ensure that the material is not infested and that no organisms are hitchhiking on the product or packaging into the importing country. In addition to the specific requirements, the regulations of annex IV include general safeguard requirements for trees, shrubs, Gramineae, annual and biennial plants other than Gramineae and, if not prohibited, for soil of certain origin.

Up to now, all consignments with regulated plants and plant products have not only to be checked on the documentary side but also to be inspected physically by the service of the NPPO. A so-called EU “Vademecum” prepared by the European Commission provides detailed guidance on the inspection procedures for the most important categories of products.

There are special import regulations for wooden packaging. These have been developed progressively over recent years and will be adapted to the respective IPPC standard (ISPM 15: Guidelines for regulating wood packaging material in international trade) in early 2005. Under this regime, the import requirement (in particular, heat treatment) has to be applied to all kinds of wooden packaging that may be a pathway for pests, particularly pests of trees. These requirements include the need to mark the wooden packaging according to the IPPC standard, which allows the identification of the responsible official service and producers in the exporting country if needed, e.g. for clarification of cases of non-compliance.

In cases of repeated non-compliance of imports of any kind of product of phytosanitary concern to the EU, the Plant Health Standing Committee may decide to take emergency measures. These may be in the form of a prohibition, a particular restriction or additional requirements for the products from the relevant origin.

This phytosanitary system of the EU is very similar to the import regulatory system of many other IPPC member countries. It implements elements of CBD guiding principles 7 and 11, which call for border controls and measures to minimize unintentional introductions. The competent authorities and institutions with appropriate responsibilities called for by these principles are clearly identified in Article 2 of directive 2000/29/EC. Regulatory measures are in place for specific organisms as well as general protective requirements, in particular for plants and soil. Within the scope of “protection of plants”, the provisions and systems against unintentional introduction are very well developed. However, if more attention is to be paid to indirect effects and impacts on biodiversity the existing responsible official bodies need to be strengthened and the training of staff developed accordingly, as is mentioned in CBD guiding principle 7. In addition, the efficacy of the general protective requirements needs to be assessed and options for their improvement should be developed, in particular with regard to aeroplanes, tourism, containers and feedstuffs.

Measures relating to intentional introduction

The phytosanitary control of intentional import of species is much less developed than the measures against unintentional introduction. As outlined below in discussion on regulated organisms, the EU provisions are focused only on those alien organisms that are directly harmful to plants and plant products, such as bacteria and insects. Usually there is no commercial interest in the import or trade of such organisms. However, it may be useful and necessary to import them for scientific or breeding purposes. If such organisms are listed in the annexes of directive 2000/29/EC and thus their importation or movement within the EU prohibited, specific exemptions on a case-by-case basis may be granted by the NPPOs of the member states. A detailed procedure of specific risk analysis and/or application of specific requirements and exchange of information between the responsible services is laid down in Commission Directive 95/44/EC. Similarly, member states are authorized to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis for plants or plant products that are prohibited because they present a high-risk pathway for the unintentional introduction of other organisms. In both cases, exemptions may be made only for scientific or breeding purposes and not for regular trade.

Council Directive 2002/89/EC of 28 November 2002 amended directive 2000/29/EC. Article 3(7) of the revised directive now authorizes member states and the European Commission to apply the provisions of the directive’s framework of protective measures to those organisms “which are suspected of being harmful to plants or plant products but are not listed in Annexes I and II”. Provisions are to be published before 1 January 2005 and applied after that date. In the same revision, the directive adopts the IPPC definition of a plant “pest” as its definition of “harmful organism”. Article 3(7) thus provides the legal basis to regulate on the EU level (and within EU member states) the intentional introduction of invasive alien species within the scope of the framework. This includes at least weeds and invasive alien plants. It is expected that measures will be taken on intentional imports of invasive alien species after the procedures and methods for risk analysis are adapted for this purpose.

CBD guiding principles 7 and 10 call for the establishment of authorization procedures for the intentional introduction of alien species. The procedures should identify whether these species may be invasive and, if so, may require specific restrictions or prohibit introduction. The competent authorities for such procedures should be determined. The current EU system partially fulfils these requirements. The competent authorities are established and an effective system is applied, but only for those organisms which are already classified as being invasive. With the application of the criteria in risk analysis to indirect or environmental pests, official procedures need to include at least weeds and potentially invasive plants. This would require a substantial development of the system. The legal basis is already established in Article 3(7) of directive 2000/29/EC but the details of the regulatory framework need to be developed and the procedures (e.g. risk assessment and risk management) need to be adapted in the NPPOs in order to the deal with weeds and invasive plants. Additional communication lines with agencies responsible for nature conservation may be useful in dealing with those organisms that present a potential threat to biodiversity. At all levels these activities will require additional resources within the established framework, as guiding principle 7 indicates.

Measures between and within EU member states

This section outlines the provisions of directive 2000/29/EC relating to:

It discusses how these measures support the relevant guiding principles of the CBD and how they might be developed.

Measures against the movement of plant pests in trade

Inspections at the borders between the EU member states were abolished in 1993 and replaced by a system of official control at the places of production and of the trade between and within the member states. To allow tracing the source of consignments infested with regulated harmful organisms or any non-compliance with the regulations, plants or plant products moving through the EU must be accompanied by a plant passport.

This plant passport has to be placed on the relevant plants or their packaging or on the commercial documents in combinations with labels on the products. In addition, importers of plants for planting and of many plant products have to be registered and subjected to an annual inspection by the state’s plant protection service in the same way as the producers inside the EU.

The import control system is closely linked with the internal control. Imported plants or plant products that fulfil the phytosanitary import requirements are either finally released after the phytosanitary inspection or, if the relevant product is also regulated inside the EU, the relevant information is transferred after the inspection onto a plant passport.

The required code on the plant passports allows the identification of the official plant protection services responsible for the control of the producers and traders in the region. In addition it contains a unique registration number of these producers or traders and indicates the country of origin if the plants have been imported from third countries. All producers and traders of regulated plants and plant products have to be registered by the responsible official service and have to be visited and inspected annually. Inspection includes checking the relevant records for the identification of purchases and sales of regulated plants. There are some exemptions in place for local marketing and for the sale to the end users of these plants.

Measures relating to spread, eradication and suppression of harmful organisms

If quarantine organisms listed in Council Directive 2000/29/EC are identified in an area in the EU where they have not been found before, the member state concerned has to take effective action against the outbreak with the aim to stop its spread and, if possible, to eradicate or suppress the population of the organism in the infested area (Article 16.1).

If outbreaks are identified for new harmful organisms, for instance those which have not been found in the EU before, the member state concerned is obliged to take preliminary measures that at least limit the spread of the organism to other member states (Article 16.2). The measures have to be notified to the European Commission and the other member states. If risk analysis at community level reveals that further measures against the organism are necessary, the commission and all member states may adopt a binding EU decision specifying all relevant actions (including monitoring) that are required to limit the spread and eradicate or suppress the invasive alien organisms.

Fig. 1: The tree above left illustrates damage caused by the pinewood nematode (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus), see centre inset. The nematode is vectored by beetles of the genus Monochamus, see inset right.

(1) Thomas Schroder, BBA, Germany; (2) nematode, reprinted with permission: M. Brandstetter, Institut fuer Forstschutz, Vienna

Such a decision was made after the outbreak of Bursaphelenchus xylophilus in Portugal. The pinewood nematode (see figure 1) has caused the death of millions of pine trees in Japan and China every year since its introduction from North America some decades ago. The EU decision was developed within a few months of the outbreak being confirmed in 1999. It requires that in Portugal the infested zone is delimited and a buffer zone created. In the infested zone, specified eradication measures have to be taken; measures in the buffer zone should stop any spread from the infested zone into new areas. The EU is funding with more than one million euros annually (about 50 percent of the costs of these measures), based on the so-called “solidarity provision” laid down in Article 21 of directive 2000/29/EC.

The CBD guiding principles 12, 13, 14 and 15 provide for the mitigation of impacts of invasive alien species, their eradication or, if this is not possible, their control. The EU provisions on this are, in principle, a powerful tool ensuring that all member states take the required action individually or, if necessary, community wide. Once the IPPC approach on invasive alien species is adopted by the EU, the system may address more invasive alien species. Further work on the relevant articles in directive 2000/29/EC could improve the system by placing a stronger emphasis on eradication in early stages of outbreaks.

Information exchange, monitoring and research

Monitoring and early warning are crucial elements of any system aiming at the identification of risks.

If quarantine pests or other potential invasive alien species that may pose a risk to plants in the EU are found in import inspections of consignments from non-EU countries, immediate notification must be made to the other responsible bodies in the member states and to the European Commission. More than 2 500 such notifications in a standardized format are circulated annually. A computerized information exchange system allows direct input of the relevant information into the system and makes this information immediately available to all services that have access to it. The system is now being used by an increasing number of member states. Such information provides an early warning on the risks associated with certain products from origins outside the EU.

Any finding of a quarantine pest in a previously uninfested area inside the EU has to be notified. So, also, do outbreaks of harmful organisms that are new to the EU or that show unexpected characteristics of phytosanitary relevance. Such information often becomes available to the responsible official services when registered producers or traders of plants and plant products are inspected. This is part of the general surveillance or monitoring of plants and plants products as required by Article 4 of the IPPC.

In addition to this, the responsible plant protection services of the member states (either individually or based on an EU decision) may undertake a specific, systematic survey or directed monitoring to determine the status of a pest in an area or country based on the pest’s presence/absence, distribution and so on. At present, several EU decisions require such surveys. Of particular relevance to the protection of biodiversity are the surveys for B. xylophilus and Phytophthora ramorum and the monitoring of wooden packaging.

Research on quarantine pests and other potential invasive alien species that may pose a risk to plants in the EU is done either individually in the countries most concerned or in the EU research funding framework in cooperation with scientists of several member states. The latter is of particular importance for organisms of EU-wide concern and often such projects prepare the basis for an EU pest risk analysis. The community measures against B. xylophilus are based mainly on the results of such projects. More recently, the potential consequences, including those for the environment, of a further establishment of P. ramorum in Europe are being studied.

The CBD guiding principles 5 and 6 on research and monitoring are implemented in the phytosanitary field already to a large extent. Monitoring systems have to be focused more clearly on harmful organisms of relevance for biodiversity. Research should continue to work also on these aspects of alien organisms. In particular, intensified research work is required for risk analysis of indirect pests such as invasive alien plants.

Regulated organisms, the precautionary principle and pest risk analysis

Traditionally, the EU phytosanitary system is directed almost exclusively at organisms directly harmful to plants and plant products, such as pathogenic fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes and herbivorous insects. However, the scope of the IPPC is broader, as clarified by the Third Interim Commission on Phytosanitary Measures in 2001 (FAO, 2001) and underlined by the adoption of the revised standard, ISPM 11 rev. 1: Pest risk analysis for quarantine pests including analysis of environmental risks in 2003. In the IPPC framework, indirect effects on plants or on plant health in ecosystems or habitats (see box) can be assessed and managed more explicitly by plant quarantine regulations. In addition, more attention is paid to the precautionary approach in risk analysis. Like the IPPC, directive 2000/29/EC, in principle, is not restricted to the protection of cultivated plants. Acknowledging this, the chief officers of plant health services in the EU stated in December 2002 that most of the CBD guiding principles are already covered in the EC plant health regulatory framework. They asked the European Commission to analyse further the needs for regulatory work in the framework of the directive to ensure full implementation of the CBD guiding principles for those invasive alien species which are plant pests.

In the context of regulations against harmful organisms of trees, risks of environmental damage are already routinely assessed and managed in the same way as risks of commercial damage. Examples are the Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis), oak timberworm (Arrhenodes minutus), pinewood nematode (B. xylophilus), elm phloem necrosis phytoplasma and Anisogramma anomala, a fungus causing the severe disease eastern filbert blight on hazel species. Strong, comprehensive measures have been implemented against P. ramorum, mainly because of the threat this fungus-like organism is posing to a range of native shrubs and trees. Laboratory experiments showed, for example, that P. ramorum could infect native beech (Fagus sylvatica). Until now, only a very few natural infections of native and naturalized trees have been found in Europe. Based on this limited evidence for natural infection of native trees in the EU, first emergency measures were taken on a precautionary basis.

Pest risk analysis is an essential component in regard to the protection of habitats, ecosystems, plants and other organisms. In the CBD guiding principles, there is no separate point for pest risk analysis, but principles 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10 and 11 refer to risk analysis as an important element. Pest risk analysis in the EU plant health system is based on IPPC provisions and standards. In principle, it covers all requirements of the guiding principles, including the consideration of the precautionary approach, the application of a cost-benefit analysis and research.

The initiation points for pest risk analysis in the EU are typically:

Member states are normally responsible for doing risk analyses individually; organisms or critical products are analysed by experts of the most concerned member state. However, many risk analyses on organisms are conducted by EPPO (see chapter 13) and are often the basis for a regulation of the assessed organism in directive 2000/29/EC. Results of relevant pest risk analyses are assessed in EU expert working groups and further action is recommended to the Plant Health Standing Committee.

Pest risk analysis has, up to now, mostly been done with regard to unintentional introductions. Further development is required for intentional introductions, especially of alien plants, and the unintentional introduction of weeds. The systems will have to be adapted accordingly. Two years ago EPPO started a new working programme on invasive alien species, including conducting pest risk analyses for ornamental plants. Already EPPO has put the first invasive plants on its alert list.

Pest risk analysis in the EU phytosanitary system is sure to follow EPPO’s approach and, in future, to include more frequently in its regulations harmful organisms that affect plants indirectly, such as weeds and invasive plants. The EU is also expected to consider harmful consequences on non-cultivated plants according to the revision of ISPM 11. An activity plan is required to develop these areas further.

Other elements referred to in the guiding principles

Additional aspects of the CBD guiding principles include:

Cooperation between contracting parties and the EU member states is a main prerequisite for the EU system in general and one of the main goals of EPPO. Cooperation between different stakeholders (e.g. nature conservation and plant health authorities) is already taking place, though at the moment mostly between EPPO and the Bern Convention.

Capacity building is mainly in the competence of the member states alone. There have been many EU projects supporting the development of phytosanitary systems in developing countries. The current workshop may also be seen in this context.

The EU phytosanitary system partly covers the role of states (guiding principle 4). The CBD recommendation that states should identify, as far as possible, species that could become invasive and make such information available to other states may be interpreted to require pest risk analysis done by the exporting state for the importing state. This is not considered to be a realistic requirement. Pest risk analyses in the EU plant health system are done on the importing side. However, once EU member states are informed of species that may be invasive to other countries, they have to take this into account before exports of potentially problematic products can take place and the required plant health certificates are issued.

The only guiding principle covered poorly in most member states is the one on education and public awareness. More attention to this is required. In particular, risk communication not only to the stakeholders but also to the public is crucial for a long-term acceptance of effective measures against invasive alien species that are plant pests. Little, easily understandable information on impacts of invasive alien species relevant for plants has been available to the public. The EU population is not sufficiently aware of the threat posed by invasive alien species to agriculture, forestry and the uncultivated environment.

References and further information

CBD. 2002. Sixth Conference of the Parties, The Hague, the Netherlands, 7-19 April 2002: Decision VI/23: Alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species to which is annexed Guiding principles for the prevention, introduction and mitigation of impacts of alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species (available at

Council of the European Union. 2000. Council Directive 2000/29/EC of 8 May 2000 on protective measures against the introduction into the Community of organisms harmful to plants or plant products and against their spread within the Community. Official Journal of the European Communities, L 169: 1-112 (available at

FAO. 2001. Report of the Third Interim Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, Rome, Italy, 2-6 April 2001, Appendix XIII: Statements of the ICPM Exploratory Open-ended Working Group on Phytosanitary Aspects of GMOs, Biosafety and Invasive Species (available at

Texts of ISPM 11 [2004]: Pest risk analysis for quarantine pests, including analysis of environmental risks and living modified organisms, other ISPMs and the IPPC are available at

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page