The European Union (EU) has committed to an ambitious biodiversity recovery plan in its Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the Green Deal. These policies aim to halt biodiversity loss and move towards sustainable development, focusing on restoring degraded habitats, extending the network of protected areas (PAs), and improving the effectiveness of management, governance, and funding. The achievement of conservation goals must be founded on understanding past successes and failures. Here, we summarise the strengths and weaknesses of past EU biodiversity conservation policies and practices and explore future opportunities and challenges. We focus on four main aspects: i) coordination among and within the EU Member States, ii) integration of biodiversity conservation into socio-economic sectors, iii) adequacy and sufficiency of funds, and iv) governance and stakeholder participation.Whilst past conservation efforts have benefitted from common rules across the EU and funding mechanisms, they have failed at operationalizing coordination within and across the Member States, integrating biodiversity conservation into other sectoral policies, adequately funding and effectively enforcing management, and facilitating stakeholder participation in decision-making. Future biodiversity conservation would benefit from an extended and better-managed network of PAs, additional novel funding opportunities, including the private sector, and enhanced co-governance. However, it will be critical to find sustainable solutions to potential conflicts between conservation goals and other socio-economic objectives and to resolve inconsistencies across sectoral policies.