29th Sep 2023

Row over EPP 'blackmailing' MEPs on eve of nature vote

  • Manfred Weber, chair of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) has been accused of threatening his MEPs with political retaliation if they vote in favour of the EU nature restoration law (Photo: European Parliament)
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A major row has erupted in the European Parliament ahead of a crucial vote on the EU nature restoration law in the environment committee on Thursday (15 June).

On Tuesday, French liberal Renew MEP Pascal Canfin, chair of the environment committee, accused the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) chairman, German MEP Manfred Weber of "blackmailing" his own EPP members with political retaliation (including exclusion from the EPP) if they voted in favour of the restoration law.

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During a press conference, Canfin said that he knows from several EPP members that they have been threatened to not make it to the next lists if they vote in favour of the proposal.

"They told us that they are in favour of the text after the compromises we have made, but are not allowed to vote in favour and are not allowed to vote at all [since they] will be replaced by [other] members that are not from the environment [committee]," he said.

"This cannot be accepted," he warned.

On top of that, the council decision on the proposal has also been reopened due to "pressure from Weber" on several prime ministers, starting with the Swedish prime minister, Canfin said.

The EPP has been leading opposition to the EU nature restoration law, over concerns about potential impacts on farmland, food security and strategic goals, including renewables deployment and mining critical raw materials.

But not everyone is holding to the EPP voting line.

Centre-right Czech MEP Stanislav Polčák said on Monday that he would vote in favour of the law, to reverse the degradation of the environment and biodiversity loss.

But on Tuesday he announced that he had requested to be substituted at Thursday's vote in the environment committee.

"I do not consider the EPP's overall rejection of the proposal to be a good decision, but I decided to respect it," he said.

The EPP, for its part, has denied any sort of blackmail.

"If he is putting such complaints on the table, he must give me proof of this. I can only say [that] nobody is attacked," Weber responded on Tuesday, arguing that this is a "panic and nervous reaction" from rival MEP Canfin.

"The only ones who are blackmailing members of the parliament if they don't vote like they want are Canfin and [commission vice-president Frans] Timmermans," Pedro Lopez de Pablo, head of communications for the EPP group, added, calling that Canfin's accusations are "ridiculous".

Earlier this month, Christine Schneider, EPP shadow rapporteur for the file, denounced undue pressure from the EU executive — and, specifically, from Timmermans, on the proposal.

"The EPP is trying to send a message to the European Commission [with this vote] and they want MEPs to hold the line," one source who asked not to be named, told EUobserver.

Thursday's vote in the environment committee is expected to be tight — and it is still unclear if the draft law will pass the final plenary vote expected in July.

If the text is rejected, it would be the first proposal to fail under the Green Deal.

Previously, the agriculture and fisheries committees rejected the nature restoration proposal, with MEPs from the EPP, Renew, and far-right ECR all joining up against it.

Nevertheless, Dutch socialist MEP Mohammed Chahim said that there is already a majority in the environment committee (which is the lead committee on the file).

When asked about Canfin's accusations against EPP, Chahim told reporters that he had heard the rumours. "Rumours don't just pop up."

Likewise, Green MEP Jutta Paulus also said on Tuesday that EPP lawmakers are being "bullied" to vote against the nature restoration law. "Believe that Manfred Weber has overstepped limits in trying to sabotage European Green Deal? You ain't seen nothing yet", she said.

Under the parliament's committee position, member states would have to prepare plans and propose which degraded areas are in need of restoration to achieve legally binding targets foreseen in the draft law, in line with international agreements under COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal.

A coalition of big corporations recently came out in support of the draft law.

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