Nature Restoration Law on knife edge as centre-right EPP walks out on talks

08 06 2023 | 07:27 Kira Taylor |

The EU’s flagship Nature Restoration Law has suffered another blow as the largest group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party, walked out of negotiations on Wednesday (31 May) ahead of a crucial vote in the environment committee.

The law, proposed in June 2022, aims to reverse the drastic decline of Europe’s nature, where 81% of habitats are in a bad state and 1,677 European species are threatened with extinction.

However, it has seen a major pushback from the European Parliament, particularly the European People’s Party (EPP), with the agriculture (AGRI) and fisheries (PECH) committees already voting to reject it.

Now the EPP has walked out of talks between groups in the environment committee (ENVI), which has the power to block it. The walkout itself will not have a tangible impact, but is a clear signal the group wants to reject the proposal.

“If the Commission is serious about nature restoration, it should come up with a new proposal as soon as possible,” said Christine Schneider, who was leading negotiations for the group.

“The European Commission cannot expect the EPP to simply accept the proposal without a comprehensive impact assessment on food security, reduced farmland and the renewable energy roll-out. This is not negotiable,” she added.

Speaking to EURACTIV before the walkout, Schneider said she supports conservation and the restoration of ecosystems, but disagreed with the Commission’s approach.

She added that elements of the proposal made no sense, including restoring ecosystems to their historical status rather than a future-orientated approach, and said food security and affordability needed to be a priority over rewilding.

However, while the European Commission is happy to discuss the details of the proposal and find solutions, it will not redraft it.

“There is no such thing as rejecting this proposal and hoping the Commission will come with another one. The Commission will not come with another proposal. Let that be crystal clear,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans told the European Parliament’s agriculture committee.

The European Commission is still unmoving on this, with an official telling EURACTIV: “If they choose to cosy up with the science deniers and the extreme right, so be it.”

Over 150 scientists have also come out in support of the proposal, arguing that restoration improves food security and does not preclude economic activity, with benefits far exceeding the costs.

“If the EU is to restore the health, productivity and resilience of its lands and seas, and have nature continue supporting European food security, employment, climate change mitigation, and the economy, it must approve and implement its Nature Restoration Law,” the statement reads.

EPP not enough to derail vote

By themselves, the EPP are not large enough to overthrow the law and the lead lawmakers in other groups, including Renew Europe, The Left and the Greens, all indicated to EURACTIV that they support it.

The lead negotiator for Renew Europe told EURACTIV the law is “absolutely necessary to combat climate change”.

She added that negotiators have worked hard to increase flexibility in the law, improve public participation and include ways for EU countries to leverage finance for restoration efforts.

Meanwhile, Green negotiator Jutta Paulus told EURACTIV that, while the proposal sometimes lacks ambition, it is a good starting point and “reflects the urgently needed measures to stop ecosystem degradation and mass species extinction”.

She has accused the EPP of electioneering, with the next European Parliament elections set for 2024.

“The survival of species, including our own, must not be traded for short-sighted political campaigning,” she told EURACTIV before the walkout.

“Though some election-driven party politicians are loudly calling for its rejection, the urgency for action is widely accepted among political groups. I expect my colleagues from all political groups to continue negotiations based on scientific and technical grounds to find a compromise in the interest of all Europeans,” she added.

The law has also seen scepticism from EU countries, including Irish leader Leo Varadkar saying it goes too far on certain aspects. However, diplomatic sources have told EURACTIV that EU countries want to push ahead and find a deal ahead of their meeting in Luxembourg at the end of June.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]





cover photo:"The law was poorly drafted in the first place and is an attack on European agriculture, forestry and fisheries," said the EPP lawmaker in charge of negotiating the file, Christine Schneider. [Alexis Haulot / European Union 2023 - Source : EP]