The Irish Times view on the EU’s Nature Restoration Law - a welcome boost for the Green Deal

It is vital that EU governments communicate effectively the benefits to society, and ensure that adequate funding and expertise is provided

The final adoption of the Nature Restoration Law by the European Parliament on Tuesday gives a badly needed respite to the EU’s imperilled Green Deal. This has been severely damaged by recent concessions, on pesticide and fertiliser use, for example, in response to the massive wave of farmers’ protests across the Union. Yet this deal is no optional extra. It is fundamental to securing all our futures on a habitable, productive continent.

It is unfortunate that key elements of the deal, and perhaps especially the Nature Restoration Law, have been misrepresented, sometimes grossly so, by many conservatives in the European People’s Party (EPP) as major causes of the real crises faced by farmers. The EPP is running scared of surging far-right parties with strong rural bases ahead of June’s European elections. Fine Gael MEPs deserve credit for parting company from the EPP on this issue, and voting for the Nature Restoration Law with most of their Irish colleagues, albeit having watered it down with amendments earlier.

That said, farmers have strong grounds for their protests: they face plunging farm gate prices, manipulated by supermarkets, while their energy and fertiliser costs soar. They are further undermined by cheap imports. Contradictory and onerous bureaucracy around environmental regulation has also indeed added to their burdens.

There is an irony in the misrepresentation of the Nature Restoration Law as an attack on farmers’ interests. Rural communities across Europe are among the sectors most immediately exposed to the ravages being wrought by the interlinked forces of biodiversity and climate collapse. Floods, fires, drought and pollinator extinctions are destroying agricultural production in more and more regions. Farmers have a core interest in the restoration of fertile landscapes, properly functioning ecosystems, and seasonal stability.

READ MORE

However, it must be conceded that this misrepresentation has been made much easier by the dismal failure of the European Commission, and of national governments, including Ireland’s, to consult farmers about environmental regulations, to communicate their benefits and to pay farmers adequately for biodiversity – and climate-friendly practices.

Meanwhile, some environmentalists have inadvertently contributed to farmer ire by conflating the science-based practice of ecological restoration, on which its provisions are based, with the rhetoric of “rewilding”. This phrase is often read by farmers as “land abandonment”, contempt for their culture, and the loss of their livelihoods.

It is vital that all EU governments now communicate effectively the benefits of nature restoration to our whole societies, and ensure that adequate funding and expertise is provided to bring these benefits to visible and rapid fruition.