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EU Policy. Berlin and Dublin spearhead move to unblock Nature Restoration Law

Irish environment minister Eamon Ryan stressed the urgency of nature restoration at an EU Council summit in March
Irish environment minister Eamon Ryan stressed the urgency of nature restoration at an EU Council summit in March Copyright European Union / Alexandros Michailidis
Copyright European Union / Alexandros Michailidis
By Robert Hodgson
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Eleven EU members are urging their peers to sign off on a new Nature Restoration Law - perhaps the most important piece of environmental legislation to fall foul of a backlash against the European Commission's green deal agenda.

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The German and Irish governments have secured the support of nine EU member states – including France and Spain – in a bid to rescue a law designed to reverse decades of drastic biodiversity loss across Europe.

A vote on the Nature Restoration Law (NRL) – whose text was agreed in quasi-formal talks with the European Parliament, but which a blocking minority of governments subsequently refused to give the final rubber stamp – is expected during an EU Council summit of environment ministers on 17 June, the last such meeting under the current Belgian presidency.

“The ongoing absence of a qualified majority for the carefully negotiated provisional agreement on the Nature Restoration Law is very worrying,” runs the letter, which has also been signed by Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia.

A previous vote on the key piece of Green Deal legislation was abandoned when Hungary, realising it had the deciding vote, reversed its previous support for the law and joined Austria, Belgium, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, who had signalled they would either abstain or vote against.

Hungary is due to take over the rotating six-month EU Council presidency on 1 July.

“Such backtracking on previously agreed compromises, the result of long months of negotiation, jeopardises our democratic institutions and calls into question the EU policy-making process,” the letter runs.

The NRL is not the first green policy file to see national governments renege on so-called ‘trilogue’ agreements, the process whereby the bulk of primary EU legislation is hammered out in back-room talks between the EU Council and European Parliament, the two legislative bodies, and the European Commission.

Germany – whose environment minister Steffi Lemke put her name to the above statement – itself threatened to block new CO2 emissions standards for cars that amount to a de facto ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel models from 2035 until it secured a review clause, and is currently among those blocking new corporate due diligence rules.

Ireland’s environment minister Eamon Ryan was unequivocal in stressing the importance of the world’s fastest warming continent adopting a nature law that has been hanging in the balance for over a year now amid a backlash against the green deal spearheaded by the centre-right EPP group as farmers protest across Europe and EU elections approach.

The nature law calls for a fifth of degraded marine and terrestrial natural environments to be subject to restoration measures by 2030, and sets legally binding targets for specific ecosystem types such as the re-wetting of drained peatland, a major source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Ryan, who gave a fiery speech in support of the law at the last Environment Council in March, said ecosystem restoration was essential to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to safeguard European food security. “We must act urgently and decisively to conclude the political process,” the Irish minister said in a statement to the press.

“Failure to do so would be a carte blanche to destroy nature and would fundamentally undermine public faith in the EU’s political leadership at home and internationally,” Ryan said.

The Irish government said it was reaching out to all 16 member states who have not yet signed the joint letter, and that the EU Council summit in June could mark a “critical endpoint” to a tortuous legislative process. A change of heart by just one of the countries that have publicly refused to back the law could be enough to secure the necessary qualified majority.

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