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Nature Restoration Law survives first crucial vote in the EU Parliament but uncertainty remains high

The Nature Restoration Law aims to rehabilitate degraded habitats and species.
The Nature Restoration Law aims to rehabilitate degraded habitats and species. Copyright Petr David Josek/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Petr David Josek/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved
By Jorge LiboreiroSándor Zsíros
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The Nature Restoration Law, a key piece of the European Green Deal, sets legally binding targets to rehabilitate degraded habitats and lost species.

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The draft piece of legislation is at the centre of a relentless opposition campaign led by conservative parties, who intend to bring it down altogether.

On Thursday morning, the European Parliament gave its first assessment but failed to settle the growing controversy.

During a closely-watched session of the environment committee, MEPs were asked to decide whether to reject the law in its entirety, a radical option that is rarely used, or continue the process through amendments.

The 88-member committee cast 44 votes in favour and 44 against.

The motion to reject, which had been tabled by the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), needed one more ballot to break the tie, meaning the proposed law was allowed to make it through by the thinnest possible margin.

The outcome prompted applause in the packed room from green, socialist and other progressive MEPs, who celebrated the legislation's survival.

Conservative lawmakers were left visibly stone-faced.

The committee then turned to a huge list of amendments, many of which replicated the 44-44 margin. But after more than three hours of voting, MEPs realised they did not have time to finish the session and hold a vote on the whole text, a necessary step to bring it to a full plenary.

Pascal Canfin, the French MEP who chairs the ENVI committee, chose to postpone the file to 27 June, when lawmakers will have a second chance to wrap up the remaining amendments.

The cliffhanger further elevates the uncertainty around the contentious law and kicks off a new round in the charged political fight.

The EPP, the largest formation in the hemicycle, is the leading force behind an unprecedented opposition campaign against the draft legislation.

The group says the law, in its current form, will bring disastrous economic losses for farmers and fishers, endanger Europe's supply chains, increase food prices for consumers and hamper the roll-out of renewables.

The claims have been vigorously contested by left-wing parties, NGOs and the private sector, who argue nature restoration is compatible with economic activity and can help guarantee the long-term viability of soils and harvests.

The intensity of the political fight ratcheted up in the lead-up to Thursday's vote, turning the committee session into a high-stakes trial on the European Green Deal.

César Luena, the socialist MEP who acts as rapporteur of the Nature Restoration Law, described Thursday's vote as "very good news" and denounced the EPP for adopting a "far-right" position and dragging the parliament into the party's internal problems.

"It was real crazy," Luena told Euronews. "Nature is not guilty (of) the electoral strategy of the EPP in Europe."

Christine Schneider, the German MEP leading the EPP's opposition push, expressed her disappointment and pointed the finger at Frans Timmermans, the European Commission's vice-president in charge of the Green Deal, whom she appeared to accuse of coaxing undecided MEPs.

"This is a consequence of a very badly-made law," Schneider told Euronews.

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"The proposal from the Commission is not good. We said over nine months what we want, and this now is the result of the work from Vice President Timmermans and it continues today with the vote."

What is the Nature Restoration Law?

The Nature Restoration Law was first presented by the European Commission in June 2022, following the goals set under the European Green Deal and the biodiversity strategy.

The legislation, referred to as the "first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind," aims to restore habitats and species that have been degraded by human activity and climate change.

According to the Commission, 81% of European habitats are in poor status, with peatlands, grasslands and dunes hit the worst.

The law sets out legally-binding targets in seven specific topics, from pollinating insects to marine ecosystems, that put together should cover at least 20% of the EU's land and sea areas by 2030.

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The target was later boosted to 30% in order to align the bloc with the landmark deal that was achieved in December at the end of COP15 in Montreal.

Under the plan, member states would be asked to draft a national restoration plan, laying out the projects and initiatives they wish to pursue in order to meet the overarching target.

Possible actions include plating trees, beekeeping, rewetting drained peatlands and expanding green spaces in urban areas.

Upon its presentation, the Nature Restoration Law was well received by environmental organisations, which welcomed the legally-binding targets and the far-reaching scope, but triggered a significant backlash from farmers, fishers and foresters, who saw it as a direct threat to their livelihoods and their traditional way of working.

The EPP built upon this reaction to launch its opposition campaign, which critics say is heavily influenced by the upcoming European elections and the emergence of the abrupt rise of BBB, the agrarian populist party that has disrupted Dutch politics.

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This piece has been updated with more details about the vote.

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