EU agriculture lawmakers have approved their opinion on the EU’s nature restoration law which rejects the whole proposal, effectively leaving the agriculture committee ‘without a voice’ in the final draft.
On Tuesday (23 May), a majority of EU lawmakers in the agriculture (AGRI) committee voted in favour of a non-binding opinion to reject the Commission’s proposed law to restore nature, led by centre-right EPP rapporteur Anne Sander with the support of liberal Renew and far-right groups.
The EU executive tabled the nature restoration law in June 2022, which for the first time introduced legally-binding targets to restore degraded land and reverse biodiversity loss.
The plan also includes a €100 billion budget for EU member states to restore nature in agriculture, forests, oceans and urban areas.
But the draft law has been subject to heated debates among lawmakers since its proposal.
Despite the environment (ENVI) committee at the European Parliament being responsible for the file, Tuesday’s was the first in a series of votes that could break the proposal and put it back on the Commission’s table.
On Wednesday, the fisheries (PECH) committee followed suit by entirely rejecting the Commission’s proposal, while the ENVI committee is scheduled to vote on 15 June and a final plenary vote is expected in July.
“This is something that will hopefully make headway and I hope that in the other committees, and then in plenary, we’ll be able to set out a very strong position from the Parliament,” said Sander after the vote.
The centre-right MEP accused the EU executive of “turning a deaf ear” to their complaints adding that “once and for all the Commission will actually listen to us and we can start discussions”.
However, for socialist MEP Clara Aguilera, the rejection will have the opposite effect.
“Leaving the AGRI committee without a voice does not seem like the most convenient thing to do,” she told EURACTIV.
In voting against the proposal, agriculture lawmakers are also forfeiting the ability to “put up a fight” by introducing their own amendments and taking part in the drafting of the law, according to Aguilera.
She added that, despite not favouring the Commission’s proposal herself, “everything can be modified and improved, and that is why we have voted against rejecting it.”
Renew: ‘Make or break’ party
Looking ahead to the ENVI committee vote, scheduled for 15 June, which will decide on the proposal that will be voted on in plenary session, Aguilera said that “it is going look a lot” like the vote in the AGRI committee.
The difference could be in “the homogeneous position, or not, of Renew”, she said.
Likewise, Pascal Canfin, member of Renew and chair of the ENVI committee, said that, while they share ‘concerns’ with the EPP, Renew is “the group that will actually make the difference here”.
He acknowledged “internal discussions” on ongoing texts such as the nature restoration law, and said that “positions which come closer to those of the EPP negotiators […] can move us towards convergence”.
But fellow Renew MEP Dacian Cioloș, who is a member of the AGRI and substitute of the ENVI committee, criticised the Commission’s availability to negotiate as it comes “in the 11th hour”.
“It would have been so much better if this had gone on for months,” calling for “coherence in the proposals” and to “take into account that resources natural resources are also tools of production for farmers”.
On the other hand, green MEP Thomas Waitz labelled the vote as a continuation of the EPP’s “destructive path” and said that “rejecting the proposal would be utterly irresponsible policymaking”.
Science vs ‘blackmail’
Meanwhile, a coalition of NGOs accused the AGRI committee of turning a blind eye to farmers’ problems by ignoring growing scientific evidence showing that, in the long term, food security depends on restoring nature and natural ecosystems.
“At times when Italy is devastated by flooding and Spain is experiencing severe droughts, this denial of what is happening in Europe is unacceptable,” said Sabien Leemans, senior biodiversity policy officer at WWF European Policy Office.
Sergiy Moroz, policy manager for water and biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau, added that “it is now up to their colleagues in the Environment Committee to vote for an ambitious Nature Restoration Law, that can help us bring back and improve ecosystems as our best allies to tackle both the biodiversity and climate crises.”
But farmers’ organisation Copa-Cogeca celebrated the result, saying that the AGRI committee has “not given in to the blackmail of the Commission” by rejecting the proposal.
“A good nature restoration law cannot be designed without the clear commitment of farmers,” the statement adds while asking the Commission to “go back to the drawing board, and finally be realistic and rational”.
[Edited by Natasha Foote/Nathalie Weatherald]