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EU nature restoration law narrowly survives attack by conservative lawmakers

  • The proposal to eliminate a draft law aimed at revitalizing nature and preserving endangered species throughout Europe was narrowly rejected by the European Parliament’s environment committee on Thursday. 
  • The motion presented by the conservative European People’s Party was defeated as the 88-member committee was evenly split, with 44 votes against and 44 votes in favor.
  • The European Union’s executive commission put forward a law that includes enforceable targets for the restoration of specific habitats and species. 

The European Union’s ambition to lead the way on ecological issues avoided a major setback Thursday when the environment committee of the European Parliament voted by the thinnest margin to reject a proposal that would have killed a draft law on restoring nature and lost species across the continent.

The 88-member committee cast 44 votes against the motion submitted by the conservative European People’s Party and 44 in favor, leading to its defeat.

Cheers and loud applause greeted the result announced by Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee chair Pascal Canfin in Strasbourg, France, but the future of the bill remains uncertain.

The committee did not have time to finish voting on a long list of amendments or the text as a whole. Members plan to resume work on the legislation at the end of the month in Brussels before the text can be adopted, or not, by the whole legislative assembly in July.

“The conservatives are waging a crusade against the European Green Deal, the heart of European climate action,” Michael Bloss, the climate policy spokesperson for the Greens in the EU Parliament, referring to a package of climate and environmental policies for getting the EU on track to a green transition. “Today, we were able to prevent the conservatives from kicking the climate protection law into the bin. But that’s far from the end.”

Before the vote, the bill had received the support of climate activist Greta Thunberg, non-governmental organizations and large corporations such as Nestle, Coca-Cola Europe and French yogurt and plant milk maker Danone.

The legislation proposed by the EU’s executive commission sets binding restoration targets for specific habitats and species, with the aim by 2030 to cover at least 20% of the region’s land and sea areas. Two other committees rejected it in May, but Thursday’s vote was more crucial since it involved the lead committee for the bill.

“Very happy of the defeat of the right and extreme right today,” environment committee chair Canfin said. “They wanted to kill the nature restoration law, they failed!”

As part of its plan to become climate neutral by 2050, the European Union has adopted a wide range of measures, from reducing energy consumption to sharply cutting transportation emissions and reforming the EU’s trading system for greenhouse gases.

But with the next European Parliament elections set for 2024, some leaders and lawmakers are concerned about antagonizing workers with binding legislation and restrictive requirements.

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The main opposition to the nature restoration law was led by the European People’s Party, the Parliament’s largest group. It first asked the European Commission to withdraw the proposal, then withdrew from the negotiations, arguing the law would threaten agriculture and undermine food security in Europe.

EPP lawmakers say that abandoning farmland would lead to an increase in food prices, more imports and would drive farmers out of business.

The Copa-Cogeca, a group representing farmers and agricultural cooperatives, repeated its calls Thursday for a rejection of what it described as an “ill-prepared and ill-equipped text.”

Europe Fox News graphic

The European Union nature restoration law has narrowly survived an attack by conservative lawmakers.  (Fox News)

“The EU cannot restore and rewet thousands of hectares of agricultural peatlands or grasslands without the right tools,” the group said, criticizing the bill for a perceived lack of adequate funding. “We need a restoration fund now, not in five years’ time, not in 10 years’ time. Action is needed and all the farming community agree on this, but it should be properly financed.”

Environmental organizations and a coalition of big companies insist the legislation is crucial to tackle both climate change and nature loss.

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According to the European Commission, 81% of habitats are in poor condition in Europe. Its proposal would set legally binding targets to reduce pesticide use by half by 2030 and ban the use of pesticides in public parks, playgrounds and schools. To ease the transition to alternative pest control methods, farmers would be able to use EU funds to cover the cost of the new requirements for five years, the commission said.

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