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29th Feb 2024

Nature-restoration law survives tight vote in EU Council

  • 'Today we have taken an important step for nature,' said Romina Pourmokhtari, Swedish minister for environment, announcing the council agreement (Photo: European Union)
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EU environment ministers have agreed a joint position on a nature-restoration law, sending a message to divided MEPs to get their act together.

"Today we have taken an important step for nature," said Romina Pourmokhtari, the Swedish minister for environment, announcing the EU Council deal on Tuesday (20 June).

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The EU regulation sets legally-binding targets by 2030 in a bid to halt biodiversity loss and reverse the degradation of ecosystems.

EU countries will have to prepare detailed national restoration plans to identify threats and drivers of biodiversity loss as well as restoration measures.

The nature restoration law is "a turning point" in EU policy in terms of the protection of nature and biodiversity, said Portugal's climate minister Duarte Cordeiro.

The text was adopted by a tight majority of member states.

During Tuesday's debate, the environment ministers of Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, Finland and Sweden voiced concerns, arguing that they could not support the compromise agreement as it stands. Belgium and Austria abstained due to opposition from some regions.

Sweden, which currently holds the EU presidency, voted against its own compromise text due to intense domestic pressure from the country's far-right Sweden Democrats party.

Poland slammed mandatory requirements for not being feasible, with Polish climate minister Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertyński arguing that rewetting drained peatlands remains a major concern.

"Their rewetting means limiting the possibilities of agricultural use, which generates a risk for food security and competitiveness of the Polish and EU agriculture," said Poland in a written statement.

The Netherlands and Italy also said some of the objectives foreseen in the law are not achievable.

"This regulation is not feasible for the Netherlands. It simply does not sufficiently take into account national circumstances and in that context, population density," Dutch minister Christianne van der Wal warned,

Van del Wal also said that concerns remain over binding non-deterioration clauses and the "paralysing effects" of this law on existing houses and renewable infrastructure projects, which might struggle to get permits.

In addition, several EU countries raised issues about the administrative burden created to implement the law, as well as the need for additional financial and human resources — with countries Italy, Poland, and Hungary calling for a dedicated EU fund for restoration.

Under the final EU Council text, there is foreseen increased flexibility for EU member states to implement the law, as well as a list of derogations for renewables projects and a reference to different funding instruments.

All eyes on MEPs

While there was no formal vote, the compromise text adopted on Tuesday will serve as the EU Council's negotiating mandate for trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament and European Commission— but first a text has to be adopted in the parliament committee and afterwards in plenary.

MEPs from the environment committee are due to finalise their position next week (27 June), with a plenary vote expected in July.

On Tuesday, the centre-right EPP group accused liberal MEP Pascal Canfin of manipulating last week's controversial vote in the parliament's environment committee.

"The committee chair [Canfin] abused his role and first delayed, then interrupted and finally postponed the vote on the entire law package, because he feared a rejection," said EPP deputy Christine Schneider, calling on EU member states to reject the law ahead of the council debate.

Despite EU countries' concerns, the adoption of the council position sends an important signal to parliamentarians about the need for this type of biodiversity law.

The EU Commission, which recently came up with a non-paper that suggested changes to the law to convince opponents in both the parliament and the council, welcomed the agreement.

"Contrary to what some have been saying, this is not going to create a problem for food production. Not helping nature to restore itself will create a problem for food production," said EU commissioner for the Green Deal Frans Timmermans, ahead of the debate with ministers.

For his part, EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius urged the parliament to adopt a position without delay, in a bid to launch negotiations this summer and finalise the draft law by the end of the year.

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

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP) denied any form of blackmailing — after the chair of the environment committee accused the EPP chair of threatening his own members with political retaliation if they vote for the controversial restoration law.

Double rejection for EU flagship nature restoration plan

MEPs from the agriculture and fisheries committees have voted to reject the nature restoration proposal — a key proposal that aims to halt biodiversity loss and reverse the degradation of ecosystems in the bloc.

Analysis

The 'regulatory fatigue' fightback against EU Green Deal

With environmental legislation perceived as excessively burdensome by various member state capitals, farmer groups, business lobbies, and some groups in the EU parliament, what does that mean for the Green Deal ahead of the 2024 European Parliament elections?

Fate of nature restoration law punted to plenary vote

Tuesday's committee vote showed there was no majority to reject the nature restoration law — but the final vote on the report also fell short of the majority required to receive the committee approval.

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