EU’s Nature Restoration Law pauses for a breather

The bloc’s center piece environmental legislation has gotten caught in a legislative saga of nail-biting voting results and negotiating room walkouts.

On June 15, the highly anticipated vote on whether the EU’s Nature Restoration Law should be scrapped delivered a positive outcome for the legislation by the smallest possible margin.

Voting took place at the European Parliament’s 88-member Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, which voted 44 in favor and 44 against, meaning the proposal to dismiss was rejected as a result.

Tabled by the EU Commission in June 2022, the law proposes to have restoration measures in place on at least 20 percent of the EU’s land, river and sea areas by 2030 and repair all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

The targets would be legally binding for all member states. The law is one of the EU’s flagship environmental proposals and is a key pillar of the European Green Deal and the 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy. It also dovetails with the bloc’s farm-to-fork strategy, which features several nature restoration targets of its own.

The Nature Restoration Law is not without its detractors, chief among whom is the European People’s Party, which is one of the largest political grouping in the European Parliament with 177 MEP members. The EPP was integral to the legislation’s rejection at the AGRI and Fisheries Committees in May and was instrumental in ensuring the vote at the Environment Committee went to the wire, as it missed out on its goal of having the law scrapped by a single vote.

The EPP also withdrew from negotiations on the law at the end of May following its rejection at the AGRI and Fisheries Committees.

The group says the EU already has sufficient environmental regulations and directives in place and another law “will bring no added value.” EPP members have added that the law’s pesticide regulations are too draconian, and its land use restrictions are counterproductive.

“Biodiversity is in the interests of farms and food production but this piece of legislation is very badly thought through,” said MEP and EPP member Esther de Lange.

“For example, this legislation says farmers have to set aside, so not use a certain percentage [of their land], say 10 percent, which means they can’t use it for food production at a time when we’re seeing inflation that is mainly driven at the moment not by energy costs, but by food costs.”

The legislation features proposals for agricultural ecosystems to increase biodiversity by taking steps such as creating high-diversity landscapes, some of which may require rewilding. There is also a provision that calls for rewetting former peatlands currently being used for agriculture.

This is considered a necessary part of the nature restoration journey the EU must undertake, not least of all by European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans who is one of the key figureheads behind the legislation, as well as more than 100 corporates including the likes of Nestlé, Unilever and IKEA, who co-signed a statement calling for the law to be preserved and enacted by MEPs.

For now, onlookers and stakeholders have a moment to catch their breath in this legislative saga, before voting resumes on June 27 on all of its remaining amendments.

By the time this next round of voting comes to an end, we should have greater clarity on what the EU’s Nature Restoration Law can actually do for nature.