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EU countries vote to move forward with Nature Restoration Law, piling further pressure on MEPs

Member states endorsed the Nature Restoration Law during a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg.
Member states endorsed the Nature Restoration Law during a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg. Copyright European Union, 2023.
Copyright European Union, 2023.
By Jorge Liboreiro
Published on Updated
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The Nature Restoration Law, which has attracted enormous controversy, was on Tuesday endorsed by EU member states.

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Environment ministers voted to move forward with the draft piece of legislation, which seeks to reverse the European Union's biodiversity loss by rehabilitating degraded land and sea areas.

Countries added flexibility to some of the targets the law aims to introduce, including those related to green urban spaces and the rewetting of peatlands. They also underlined renewable projects would enjoy an "overriding public interest" and therefore be exempted from the non-deterioration obligation.

The clarifications secured the approval of the provisional agreement, which maintains the initial objective to restore at least 20% of the bloc's land and sea areas by 2030.

The text, drafted by the Swedish presidency of the EU Council, is meant to guide negotiations with the European Parliament. It received 20 votes in favour, five against and two abstentions, a diplomat with knowledge of the talks told Euronews.

"We have listened carefully to all member states who had different concerns and remarks on the proposal," said Romina Pourmokhtari, Sweden's minister for the environment, at the end of the meeting in Luxembourg.

"Today's deal shows the presidency has been able to find a good balance and also that member states have shown goodwill to compromise."

Pourmokhtari said the objections put forward by some countries were "legitimate" but defended the compromise as being in line with the legislation's overall ambitions. Her own country, Sweden, is believed to be opposed to the Nature Restoration Law due to the targets related to the management of forests.

"Today is a good day for nature," Pourmokhtari declared.

Speaking by her side, Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European Commissioner for the environment, said it was also a "good day for the EU's democracy" and argued the deal would allow the bloc to fulfil the international commitments reached last year at COP15 in Montreal.

"The Council clearly showed its will to invest political capital in nature," Sinkevičius said. "Such constructive approach yielded results so it proved that when there is a political will, solutions can be found."

Tuesday's outcome offers the Nature Restoration Law a brief respite amid a furious fight in the European Parliament, where conservative parties have mounted a relentless campaign to bring down the text.

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest formation in the hemicycle, has repeatedly attacked the proposal, claiming the legally-binding restoration targets will threaten the livelihoods of European farmers and fishers, disrupt supply chains, decrease food production and push prices up.

The claims have been contested by the European Commission, environmental NGOs and the private sector, which argue biodiversity loss and climate change are the two sides of the same coin and must be tackled at the same time.

Last week, the parliament's environment committee (ENVI) held a high-stakes vote on the Nature Restoration Law that was seen as a trial of the European Green Deal.

During the vote, a motion filed by the EPP to reject the text in its entirety received 44 votes in favour and 44 against, meaning it did not pass by one single ballot. The committee then began voting on a huge list of amendments but MEPs ran out of time and chose to postpone the session.

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The vote on the whole text will take place on 27 June. If the 44-44 margin is repeated, the committee will have to reject the law and send it to the plenary without any amendments, endangering its chances of success.

"The EPP Group will do whatever it can to stop these proposals from becoming law," the group tweeted shortly after the Council's meeting came to an end.

Asked about next week's vote, Commissioner Sinkevičius urged lawmakers to "really look at the content" of the law in order to "bridge outstanding gaps."

"I can only call on all parties to keep calm and negotiate," Sinkevičius said, avoiding mentioning the EPP by name.

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"This is the way how we usually get to the best possible conclusions, conclusions that are vital for our future and are enshrined in the nature restoration proposal."

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