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Nature restoration bill unleashes havoc in Austrian coalition

Lisa Leutner / AP
Lisa Leutner / AP Copyright Lisa Leutner/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Lisa Leutner/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved
By Marta Pacheco
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Vote cast by Green climate minister Leonor Gewessler triggered turmoil within the federal government, with Chancellor Karl Nehammer pushing a lawsuit against the member of his own coalition.


Austria’s acceptance of the EU Nature Restoration Law today (June 17) unleashed havoc as the country's centre-right Chancellor Karl Nehammer vowed to challenge the decision before the European Court of Justice and later railed against his 'rule-breaking' climate minister Leonore Gewessler during a press statement in Brussels.

The centre-right People’s Party's (OVP) Nehammer said Gewessler, a Green member of the ruling coalition in Austria, had "violated the Constitution" by casting a vote on behalf of the Austrian Republic that went against the will of the governing coalition on the Nature Restoration Law, adding such acts needed to be "punished accordingly".

The Nature Restoration Law is a biodiversity bill intended to reverse decades of ecosystem degradation proposed by the European Commission in June 2022 which suffered several setbacks between the EU co-legislators, passing today following a last minute change of tack by Austria.

After the mayhem that ensued following Austria's vote on the law, an EU diplomat said "the minister [Gewessler] represents her country" and the vote she makes " is legally binding".

But the federal country is now looking at legal possibilities to revert the vote cast on behalf of the climate minister, which Chancellor Nehammer dubbed a "serious breach of truth".

"We are now fighting against this decision, which in our view was taken unlawfully, also in the opinion of the Constitutional Service of the Federal Chancellery, which was taken unlawfully, within the EU," Nehammer told a press conference this afternoon in Brussels, where he had arrived to participate in an informal summit discussion of EU top jobs.

"The Green coalition partner has shown its true colours, on the one hand moralising to the point of no return and on the other hand immediately ready to put ideology above the constitution and the law," said Nehammer.

The spat is indicative of positioning ahead of a general election due to take place on 29 September. But despite the breakdown in relations between the coalition representatives, Nehammer stepped back from calling a snap election.

Gewessler's "blatant misconduct" would normally be reason enough to "end the coalition", he said, before adding that he would refrain from doing so because it's "important that this country remains orderly, without chaos".

Talking to reporters in the EU Council after the vote, Gewessler stood by her decision to favour the biodiversity bill saying it provides for a "lot of flexibility, including to take into account local specificities".

"This is the most important law that we have in nature protection on this continent and I’m absolutely convinced that at times when there’s decisions that are desperately needed for future generations it’s time to step up and take action, that's what I did," Gewessler told reporters in Luxembourg.

When asked whether she was concerned with a potential legal retaliation from within the Austrian coalition, the climate minister said she had taken "extensive legal advice" before the vote, which gave her confidence to go ahead.

"We absolutely need intact biodiversity and ecosystems for our survival and the planet’s,” she added.

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