EU Policy. Fate of Nature Restoration Law could be decided in Budapest

A pastoral scene near Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. The Dutch parliament has called on its government to a European Nature Restoration Law.
A pastoral scene near Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. The Dutch parliament has called on its government to a European Nature Restoration Law. Copyright Peter Dejong/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Peter Dejong/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Robert Hodgson
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With seven of the EU's 27 members planning, after months of highly politicised debate, to oppose or abstain over a new law to restore degraded ecosystems to health, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán's right-wing government could find itself with the deciding vote on Friday.


Hungary has failed to commit for or against a hotly debated piece of legislation intended to reverse a drastic decline in biodiversity across Europe, forcing the postponement of a key vote by EU governments to the end of the week.

With the European Parliament having approved last month a hard-fought political agreement between MEPs and the EU Council on the text of a new Nature Restoration Law, a vote by EU diplomats planned for today would have been the last political hurdle before a final rubber stamp by government ministers.

Germany confirmed yesterday it would back the legislation, raising hopes the law would pass despite Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden having stated their intention to vote against, and Belgium, Austria, Poland and Finland signalling they would abstain.

But Belgium, currently at the helm of the rotating EU Council presidency, saw there was no majority in favour and have now pencilled in a vote for Friday (22 March) to give an “uncertain” Hungary “a bit more time” to make up its mind, an official told Euronews.

A Hungarian diplomatic source said separately that the matter was “under political consideration” but gave no indication of the reason for Hungary’s prevarication, noting only that the matter would be “decided in Budapest”.

Under the qualified majority voting system used in council votes, the legislation needs the support of at least 15 member states representing 65% or more of the EU population.

This means that, as things stand, if Hungary votes against or even abstains, the law will be rejected. However, a change of heart by any of the countries currently refusing to endorse the political agreement would swing the balance in favour of the new legislation, regardless of Budapest's position.

The EU Council presidency source said it appeared the ‘no’ voters were “definitely committed” to their positions, and Belgium cannot support the law because of the opposition of the right-wing controlled Flemish region within its complex federal system.

The Netherlands, in a statement circulated to diplomats yesterday (19 March) said it was constrained after its national parliament adopted “by a vast majority” a resolution calling on the Dutch government to oppose the law.

Like many parts of Europe, the Netherlands has seen fierce protests by farmers in recent months, who blame EU environmental legislation for jeopardising their livelihoods. Among various requirements in the new legislation are legally binding targets for the rewetting of drained peatlands.

The Nature Restoration Law as provisionally agreed calls for measures to be put in place on at least 20% of the EU's land and see by the end of the decade, alongside the opening up of 25,000km of dammed rivers and streams, and planting 3bn new trees. In parallel, a range of degraded ecosystems should be incrementally restored to full health by 2050.

It has already survived an attempt by the large centre-right European People’s Party to block it in the European Parliament. The provisionally agreed text, which significantly watered down the Commission’s original proposal, was finally adopted on 27 February by 329 votes to 275 with 24 abstentions, with two dozen EPP lawmakers breaking ranks and voting in favour.

It appears that a similarly knife-edged vote is now on the cards in the EU Council.

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