29th Sep 2023

Nature restoration law survives, but critics slam bittersweet win

  • 'We can win and we have won,' the lead MEP from the Socialists & Democrats, César Luena said (Photo: European Parliament)
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MEPs adopted the EU Nature Restoration Law on Wednesday (12 July) — paving the way for negotiation with EU member states to finalise this flagship piece of environmental legislation.

The result is a major blow for the European People's Party (EPP) and far-right groups which have been seeking the full rejection of the text in the plenary vote in Strasbourg — after a chaotic and deadlock vote in the environment committee.

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

"We can win and we have won," socialist lead MEP César Luena told reporters after the plenary vote.

"This was the battle and we have moved on to the final struggle," he added, arguing that there is still room for manoeuvre during the intern-institutional negotiations.

The law narrowly passed with a tight vote, garnering support from 336 MEPs, with 300 opposed and 13 abstentions.

The EPP is the largest group in the parliament but 21 of its centre-right lawmakers broke the party line during the final plenary vote in support of the nature restoration law.

"We lost for a few votes," EPP chief Manfred Weber admitted, arguing that he paid full respect to the democratic process in the European Parliament.

This file, Weber said, had been highly politicised within the EU Council and the EU parliament — but the EPP itself has been strongly criticised by MEPs and scientists for poisoning the debate with misleading claims.

"There was so much nonsense sold in the last couple of weeks, there were so many things that were debunked immediately on social media by those who actually know something about it," said Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans.

"[To] all my fellow politicians I would say, when we talk about the Green Deal when we talk about nature restoration, let's for once not think about the next election but about the next generation," he also said.

For his part, Weber also criticised the commission's strategy, arguing the success of the EU's Green Deal is only possible if there is unity. "This is obviously not the case with this bad piece of legislation."

Fellow Dutch EPP MEP Esther de Lange called it an "empty win" — since "they lost a lot in their win".

Bittersweet victory

While the text survived the vote in the European Parliament, MEPs substantially weakened the original proposal of the commission — prompting critics to dub the result as a "bittersweet" victory for nature.

The EU parliament, for example, scrapped obligations for agricultural land which include provisions for peatland restoration.

Guy Pe'er, a scientist at Germany's Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, said that peatland restoration has the potential to reduce 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in only 1.5 percent of the area.

"This is a major loss for biodiversity where losses are fastest, and for the climate crisis, because a huge opportunity was missed," he said.

Additionally, MEPs also adopted an amendment that would delay the implementation of the law until an impact assessment on Europe's food security has been carried out — one of the main arguments used by the EPP and the far-right to try to reject the law.

Rejection rejected

On Wednesday's vote, by a slim majority of 12 votes, MEPs voted against the rejection — which would have sent the text back to the commission.

A total of 324 MEPs voted against the rejection and 312 voted in favour of it, including members from the far-right Identity and Democracy, rightwing European Conservatives and Reformists Party, the EPP, the non-attached Hungarian Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party, and 27 dissenting Renew Europe MEPs.

The survival of the nature restoration law in the plenary vote was considered by many as a test for the EU regarding the finalisation of the last batch of green legislation under its Green Deal.

Green MEP Michael Bloss called the result of Wednesday's vote a "big relief for everyone fighting for the Green Deal".

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