Ministers unite to end boycott of Nature Restoration Law

In an unprecedented move, eleven ministers call on their colleagues to support the Nature Restoration Law, stressing that the credibility of the EU’s democracy and reputation hangs in the balance. Europe’s forests, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems are in critical health condition, demanding urgent treatment and restoration.

It’s now or never to save the highjacked EU law for restoring natural sites. That’s what a group of 11 EU environment ministers wrote in a letter sent on Monday to their counterparts from across the bloc.

“Europe is the fastest warming continent and is facing unprecedented impacts from the intertwined nature and climate crises”, the letter says. “Restoring ecosystems is essential to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to safeguard European food security.”

Environment ministers from Ireland – which led the call – Germany, France, Spain, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Estonia, Lithuania, Denmark, Slovenia and Cyprus signed the letter.


Chronology of a disgrace

The Nature Restoration Law was originally tabled as the flagship piece of regulation for the joined-up biodiversity and climate action in the European Green Deal. “It is key to delivering on the EU’s global biodiversity commitments agreed in Kunming/Montreal in December 2022,” wrote the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in a letter to the European Parliament on 16 April. She stressed that the European Commission is working with other EU institutions to finalise and formally adopt the regulation.

The final vote on the NRL by EU environment ministers was originally scheduled for 25 March. It was expected to be a formality after EU member states’ ambassadors agreed on the NRL in November, followed by the European Parliament’s approval of the watered-down version in February.

However, last-minute political manoeuvring derailed the progress of the law.  Hungary, originally in favour, withdrew its support without clarifying its objections or areas of agreement within the negotiated text. As a result, the proposal lacks the necessary majority in the EU Council.


Political flashpoint

With EU elections approaching, farmers’ protests continuing and populist movements gaining ground, the NRL has become a political flashpoint. But there’s a positive development. Despite her party’s formal opposition, von der Leyen has come out in favour of the legislation. This support could mark a turning point.

Concerns about the fate of the NRL continue, fuelled by criticism from Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Alain Maron, Brussels Environment Minister and member of the French-speaking Greens, points out that De Croo’s opposition lacks the support of coalition partners, potentially signalling a political rift. Maron also condemns the postponement, describing it as ‘reckless’ and ‘hazardous’.

Spanish vice-president and minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera, the most likely candidate to become Spain’s next European Commissioner, warned that rejecting the NRL would be a ‘huge mistake‘.

In a recent statement, the EASAC, the European umbrella organisation of national science academies, also stressed that “adopting the EU Nature Restoration Law is important to address the severe biodiversity and climate challenges Europe faces.” Meanwhile, scientists and NGOs in opposing countries are trying to turn the tide.


Difficult road ahead

Despite widespread support from EU citizens, NGOs, businesses, financial institutions, and scientists, the nature law’s fate remains uncertain. Ongoing consultations with all member states continue, and formal Council endorsement could possibly be taken at the upcoming meeting of Environment Ministers on 17 June.

Failure to endorse the agreed legislation would have dire consequences for nature, democracy and the EU’s environmental leadership, its global credibility in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. As COP 16 in Cali approaches, the EU is likely to arrive without ambition or concrete commitments on the nature protection and restoration targets it has been pushing so hard for.

(Link to original article)