Political Hotspot May 2023

The proposal for an EU nature restoration law is facing major opposition, recently leading to the rejection of the whole proposal in the Agriculture and Fishery Committees of the European Parliament. Critics claim that nature restoration is threatening EU’s food security and leads to disproportional additional burden for farmers and foresters.

What is the proposal about?

Biodiversity in the EU has decreased drastically, pollinator populations are declining, birds are disappearing, and soil health is deteriorating. More than 80% of EU habitats are in poor condition according to the European Commission. To address this, the Commission adopted a proposal for a nature restoration law in June 2022 and sent it to the EU Parliament and to the EU Council. The proposal includes legally binding targets for different ecosystems such as agriculture, forest, marine, urban and freshwater ecosystems and pollinators. For agricultural land the targets relate to butterflies and farmland birds, soils organic carbon, landscape features and peatlands.

The proclaimed clash between farming and environmental protection

Negotiations over the Nature Restoration Law have faced difficulties and hot debates for several months now. Claims about threatening EU’s food security have hindered progress on the file. The partly false arguments of having to take land out of production through the implementation of landscape features and peatland rewetting were among the main points of discussion. At the beginning of May, the Conservative European People’s Party (EPP) published a resolution rejecting the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation and the Nature Restoration Law. In the resolution they also stress the great potential they see instead in the use of New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) and respective legislative framework of Genetically Modified Organisms, now expected to be proposed on July 5. Vice President of the Commission for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, visited the Environmental and Agricultural Committee in the European Parliament on May 22, and sent a clear message to the Parliament in order to progress on the elements of the European Green Deal including the Nature Restoration Law, the Sustainable Use Regulation on pesticides, and the NGTs: “There is a choice to be made,” he told Committee members, “stick to your trenches and stick to the status quo,” which means “no SUR and no NGT’s, or reach out to each other and make progress happen, together.” “The Green Deal is a package,” he stressed. “We cannot reach climate neutrality or guarantee food production, farmers, livelihoods and a prosperous bioeconomy unless we restore our nature.” This also implies that should the Nature Restoration Law and the Sustainable Use Regulation not progress in the parliament, this might also mean a delay in the publication of the NGT proposal, as indicated in the past few weeks, both by Timmermans, but also by liberal Member of the EU Parliament (MEP) Pascal Canfin, who chairs the Environmental Committee.

Alliance of conservatives, liberals and right-wing parliamentarians blocking progress on nature restoration

While the European Parliament’s environment committee is leading on the file, the agriculture committee has drafted an opinion on the proposed law. On 23 May a majority of MEPs in the agriculture committee voted to reject the whole proposal. The opposing majority comprised MEPs from conservative and liberal groups, including the EPP (European People’s Party), Renew Europe, members of the right-wing groups ID (Identity and Democracy) and ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists Party) and one MEP from The Left. One day later, also the fishery committee rejected the proposal by 15 to 13 votes.

Framing the narrative around the necessity of biodiversity protection and nature restoration for food production

IFOAM Organics Europe has supported a nature restoration law with ambitious targets for agricultural ecosystems in a press release ahead of the votes in the agriculture and fishery committees. Organic farming is leading by example on how bringing back nature to the fields can go hand in hand with productive farming systems. To ensure long-term food security in Europe and beyond, policymakers have a duty to help farmers to preserve the natural capital on which we depend to produce food and should not be lured by misguided calls to weaken environmental legislation. A coalition of environmental NGOs is running the #RestoreNature campaign to fight back and stress the urgency and need to bring back nature and build resilience.

What next? In the next steps, the Parliament’s Environment Committee will vote on their report on 15 June 2023. The European Parliament’s plenary vote is scheduled for July or September 2023. In the upcoming meetings of EU environment ministers next months, they are expected to further advance on a common position on the proposals.

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