Nature-restoration law narrowly survives in European Parliament

Final committee vote on the law is pushed back until June 27th amid opposition from Fine Gael’s European People’s Party

The nature-restoration law in the European Parliament has survived an attempt to kill it with the narrowest possible vote, meaning the proposal to reverse the steep decline in biodiversity in Europe has avoided an outright rejection.

The proposed legislation would oblige European Union countries to come up with national plans to restore ecosystems and habitats, returning protected areas to a good condition, with the aim of putting in place nature-restoration measures across at least 20 per cent of the EU’s overall land and sea areas by 2030.

The European People’s Party (EPP) of Fine Gael had led an attempt to reject the law outright, arguing the law would disadvantage rural communities, and put forward a “rejection amendment” in the parliament’s environment committee.

The committee vote on Thursday morning evenly split MEPs, with 44 backing the rejection amendment and 44 opposing it. As it did not achieve a majority, the rejection amendment failed.


The committee room, which was crowded with observers, broke into whoops and applause as the results were announced.

However, a series of compromise amendments also failed to pass with a majority, and a final committee vote on the law was pushed back until June 27th, with a potential full plenary vote of all MEPs taking place in July.

The centre-right EPP’s leader in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, had personally driven the push to kill the law at committee stage, which would have meant the proposed law could not proceed further.

Mr Weber called on the European Commission to draw up a “better piece of legislation” in a video released on the eve of the vote, and linked the proposal to inflation and food scarcity.

Yet a fierce pushback against these arguments was mounted in the days ahead of the vote, with major companies including Nestlé and Ikea urging lawmakers to pass the legislation, insisting restoration of nature is essential to ensure food production in the future.

Scientists distributed a mass open letter arguing that the law would help food security rather than harm it, while campaigner Greta Thunberg also called on MEPs to push the legislation forward, writing: “The longer we wait to restore nature, the more it will cost!”

The nature-restoration law is a centrepiece of the European Union’s Green Deal legislation, which is intended to follow through on the continent’s commitments to act to curb dangerous levels of climate change.

The Irish Farmers Association had called for the law to be “paused”, saying farmers had concerns about the law and that their existing contributions to help nature were being ignored.

Of particular concern are proposals to rewet peatland that is currently under agricultural use.

In a bid to reassure national governments ahead of the vote, the European Commission circulated a note to say targets were flexible, that national circumstances would be taken into account and that rewetting of peatlands could take place on former peat-harvesting sites rather than agricultural land.

Fine Gael MEP for Midlands–North-West Colm Markey said the tight committee result “reflects my overriding concerns about how polarised this debate has become”.

Mr Markey was among the MEPs to vote to reject the law last month in a vote by the parliament’s agriculture committee, but he said there had been “significant improvements” in the proposal since then.

“It’s vital that we deliver a fit-for-purpose piece of legislation that works for all stakeholders – both environmentalists and farmers,” he said.

“I don’t think either side will be particularly happy at this stage, but I do hope that people can come together over the next few weeks to hammer out a deal that works for everyone.”

Ireland’s two Green MEPs have urged Irish lawmakers to persuade their political groups to back the law in the next voting session.

“Supporting and implementing the Nature Restoration Law was a direct recommendation of the recent Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss – you cannot get a more robust and democratic endorsement for legislation than that,” said Ireland South MEP Grace O’Sullivan, who voted on the law in the committee.

“I’m disappointed that many politicians continue to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the immediate need for action on climate change and biodiversity loss. If we want to save our natural heritage in Ireland and beyond we need to vote on this now.”

In the Dáil on Thursday, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns criticised both the Government and Sinn Féin for “dangerous distortions” put forward by some of their members.

Ms Cairns said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has “propagated fears” that farmers would be forced to rewet their land as part of the law “despite the fact that he knows, or at least should know, this is not true”.

She said “the Taoiseach isn’t alone in cynically politicking on this”, adding Sinn Féin MEP Chris McManus had “like the Taoiseach... chose to pit farmers against nature”. She also criticised Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher for being “at the forefront in Irish media in recent weeks, arguing the law threatens the livelihoods of farmers... in the absence of any evidence”.

In response, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the Government supported the nature restoration law while the “European Parliament is separate to this parliament”.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times