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12th Apr 2024

EU postpones vote on landmark nature restoration law

  • Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristofferson (left) and Hungary's Viktor Orbán both retracted support for the legislation at the last minute (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
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A final vote on the EU's Nature Restoration Law, set for April and which was meant to be a mere formality, was removed from the agenda on Friday (22 March) after EU member states failed to reach the needed majority.

The legislation, which is one of the main pillars of the EU's Green Deal, was designed to protect biodiversity and has already been approved by member states and the EU parliament.

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But resistance against the legislation increased over the past few days, as Hungary suddenly turned against it, following the Netherlands which had already announced it would reject the law.

Poland, Finland, Italy, and Sweden planned to abstain but now also oppose the rules. Belgium and Austria are said to be abstaining from voting, but as this counts as a rejection, a majority in the council can no longer be reached.

Belgium, currently holding the rotating EU Council presidency, subsequently opted to remove the item from the agenda and postpone the vote indefinitely, granting the law another chance to proceed.

It was uncertain whether the law would survive on Friday. One diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told EUobserver that the law "would not be killed." But it is currently unclear what will happen.

EU member states could decide to renegotiate the text with the European Parliament. But the EU Commission also signalled that it would try to address concerns from certain countries.

Sweden and Finland, for example, fear the law could negatively impact the region's large forestry industry.

However, EU legislators indicated that farmers' protests have also contributed to potentially scuppering the file at the last moment.

Both EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel said that farmers had "legitimate concerns."

"We know our farmers are facing burdens," said von der Leyen. "Some farmers tell me that they must sell their products below market cost."

She then reiterated measures already taken, including reducing the administrative burden and exempting farmers with a farm smaller than 10 hectares — making up 65 percent of all farmers, but only 10 percent of the land — from sustainability requirements.

"I call on all member states to adopt our proposal next month," von der Leyen also said, referring to the next EU council planned in April.

After a compromise was reached between co-legislators in November, the law was passed in the European Parliament with a margin of 54 votes.

Von der Leyen's own party, the centre-right European People's Party, has been leading the opposition in the parliament against the nature restoration law, portraying itself as the champion of farmers and rural interests ahead of the European elections.

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