The Nature Restoration Act, a symbolic text of the EU’s Green Deal, was finally passed on Wednesday despite opposition from the right and far-right, who denounced a threat to European economic sovereignty.
It is a text that has become a symbol of the right-left divide on the ecological question. The law for the restoration of nature, considered one of the main pillars of the Green Deal for Europe, was finally adopted on Wednesday 12 July after a long tension.
This is a “great social victory” and “excellent news for nature”, welcomed Socialist MEP César Luena, rapporteur for the law.
For the environmentalist, MEP Karima Delli, it is “a huge relief and a serious warning to nature plunderers”.
This law, proposed by the Commission on 22 June, is a comprehensive project to restore ecosystems and nature across Europe, from seas and farmland to forests and urban environments.
For weeks, it has crystallized criticism from far-right and far-right parliamentarians, who criticize a threat to Europe’s quest for autonomy. The latter failed to block him, with 12 votes, earlier in a first ballot.
For its supporters, the Nature Restoration Act is “an essential step to avoid the collapse of ecosystems and prevent the most serious effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity”.
It is based on an alarming observation: more than 80% of natural habitats in the EU are in a “poor or mediocre” state of conservation, while biodiversity has registered an unprecedented decline in recent decades, especially for stocks of fish, amphibians or even certain species of birds.
A situation that can be explained by the effects of global warming, but also by the massive use of pesticides.
To reverse this trend, the law aims to restore 20% of land and sea areas in the EU by 2030, before expanding these systems to cover all degraded ecosystems by 2050.
Economy versus climate?
If the text was the subject of broad consensus among the experts, the law on the restoration of nature gave rise to intense debates in the European Parliament – thus underlining the persistent political divide on the climate issue.
The conservatives of the European People’s Party (EPP), the main force in the Strasbourg parliament, strongly opposed the text and had called for its complete rejection, highlighting the potential impact on agriculture, fisheries or renewable energy.
Its critics fear that the proposed measures will lead to a decrease in agricultural production, but also to the dismantling of energy infrastructures in the EU, even as Europe seeks to strengthen its autonomy after the Covid-19 pandemic and in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
01:17 Caroline de Camaret, France 24 journalist ©
One point in particular has crystallized criticism: the fact that 10% of agricultural land is becoming “high diversity” areas dedicated to planting hedges, crop rotation or even planting fruit trees. Although this measure is only indicative, some Tory MPs believe it will lower agricultural production, putting the EU’s food resilience at risk.
By accusing the left of orchestrating Europe’s decline, the EPP has cast itself as a defender of farmers, who they say are unfairly targeted by these reforms. “We have to work with the affected people, not against them,” protested German MEP Peter Liese, who took part in a demonstration outside Parliament on Tuesday alongside farming organisations.
The supporters of the text, for their part, hammered home a simple message: the defense of agriculture goes through the defense of nature and refutes a text “against anyone”, but on the contrary allows the bloc’s economy to be protected.
“Having healthy ecosystems is a fundamental rule for economies to function,” said César Luena, the draftsman of the text. “No agriculture without nature, it is the common sense of the farmers that the extreme right and right-wing demagogues seem to forget. To defend the farmers is to protect the soil and the soil’s capacity,” argued the ecologist-deputy for his part and organic farmer Benoît Biteau.
Half-hearted victory for the left
In the European Parliament, this bitter political struggle could well leave its mark. Many left-wing MEPs deplored the assembly of the right, part of the liberal Renew party as well as the far right behind the same banner, and organized a vote against the text to avoid it being debated. An attitude that is criticized by some as an electoral maneuver, with the European elections in 2024 approaching.
“If we want to fight against these alliances, we can only do it at the ballot box”, insisted César Luena, the rapporteur of the text, and believed that Parliament has played its role, which consists in “adopting laws and not rejecting them”. .
For the deputies in favor of the text, this victory puts an end to a long and heavy tension with high stakes. Because in the event of a successful rejection vote, “no alternative proposal” could have been proposed due to a lack of time between now and the election, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius warned.
However, the adoption of the text of 336 against 300 is only a first step. Several dozen changes have been made to the text, diluting its content. In particular, two proposals on the creation of marine protected areas and the exclusion of giant industrial ships from coastal waters were not retained.
“The legislation is passed and that is the most important thing today. The fight continues to do more and better!” Tweeted MEP Raphaël Glucksmann after the vote.
The text must now be approved by the Environment Committee, then by the European Commission and the Member States to be adopted as law before the elections to the European Parliament in 2024.