EU ministers approve contested Nature Restoration law

Luxembourg: European Union Environment Ministers on Monday approved a much-fought-over conservation law intended to restore habitats to their natural condition, in a vote that was live-streamed publicly.

The purpose of the Nature Restoration Law is to regrow forests, re-wet moors and return rivers to their natural, free-flowing states.

The law has proven controversial, particularly because of fears of heavy restrictions on farmers.

Ministers for 20 EU member states voted in favour, representing 66 per cent of the population.

A decision by EU member states was held up until now because not enough national ministers were prepared to back it, despite a preliminary agreement among senior diplomats last year.

The Austrian Environment Minister’s decision to back the law — against the wishes of her country’s Chancellor — provided the necessary majority.

But Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has said he will seek to overturn the decision in the EU’s top court.

Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Finland and Sweden voted against it.

Belgium, which is currently responsible for chairing talks among member states, abstained.

The conservation law sets a target for the EU to restore at least 20 per cent of the bloc’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

Funding for the improvements is expected to come from both the private sector and member states’ budgets, though some EU programmes — such as regional development funding — could help cover some of the costs.

According to EU figures, around 80 per cent of habitats are in poor condition. In addition, 10 per cent of bee and butterfly species are threatened with extinction and 70 per cent of soils are in an unhealthy state.

Welcoming the Ministers’ decision, EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said on X, “We are still on track to reverse the biodiversity loss, let’s now start work together and show that the EU is still leading the way.”

Confirming the adoption of the bill, the Belgian government said on X after the vote that it’s “the final step before this law can enter into force”.

Specifically, what Ministers have approved is a deal struck last year between negotiators for the European Parliament and the Spanish government, which was acting on behalf of all member states before Belgium took over in January.

Normally, ministerial votes such as the one on Monday are little more than a formality, because such deals already represent a carefully negotiated compromise between the respective common positions of the Parliament and the member states.

When disagreements over these compromises do occur, they tend to come up at the diplomatic level. But in this case, a sufficient majority of senior diplomats had already endorsed the agreement last year.

In the meantime, there have been major protests by farmers against, among other things, the constraints of EU regulations.

The Nature Restoration law was also controversial in the European Parliament.

The bill passed a parliamentary vote in February, but factions of the Parliament’s largest political bloc, the European People’s Party (EPP), voted against it.

After Ministers approved the law on Monday, a coalition of environmental campaigners, including the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement that the vote is “a massive victory for Europe’s nature and citizens who have been long calling for immediate action to tackle nature’s alarming decline”.



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