Nature restoration law: a major setback for VP Frans Timmermans

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Whatever the outcome of the vote on the Nature Restoration Law in Strasbourg tomorrow, the situation of extreme polarisation of the debate is already a major failure for Vice-President Frans Timmermans and his personal vision of implementing the Green Deal and Farm to Fork.

Ultimately, it raises the question of a European Commission that claims to be « political », and no longer has the capacity to play its role as “honest broker”, able to facilitate dialogue and to shape compromises leaving no one behind. The inclusion of agriculture in this text raises questions as far as the co-legislators have just reached an agreement via the Common Agricultural Policy on important points included again in the Nature Restoration Law. This creates mistrust in the political decision-making and the feeling among the farming community that the European Commission is coming back via the back door, despite the political balances recently established.

The Nature Restoration Law is far from being the only text aimed at protecting natural resources. The aim of this law is above all to bring the protection of biodiversity and environmental policy under the jurisdiction of the Courts, placing a legal risk on the Member States and political leaders, and ultimately to put pressure on all those in direct contact with natural resources, in particular farmers, fishermen and foresters.

In this respect, Article 16 proposed by the European Commission (which makes it easier for individuals to take legal action against political leaders) is indicative of this approach: with this law, it is not a question of encouraging and promoting a positive dynamic. It’s not about incentives, it’s about sanctions. The European Commission is positioning itself as a supervisor who validates or distributes sanctions, without taking any political responsibility for defining the path to achieving the targets — the how to implement transitions —, and if necessary relying on the courts. The European Commission would approve national plans.

No political group, with the exception of the Greens and part of the far left, feels truly comfortable with the approach defined by the European Commission. An analysis of the amendments tabled in plenary bears this out.

  • The EPP profoundly rejects this text. In the end, it decided that there was no point in trying to improve the draft law. It has tabled a motion to reject it.
  • It is joined in this approach by the ECR and ID groups. The ECR also tabled amendments aimed at deleting the 10% target for areas of ecological interest (equivalent to set-aside land) and deleting the “butterfly” indicator, which would force Member States to observe the growth of certain species.
  • The Renew Europe group is attempting a compromise by proposing the Council’s general approach, a proposal which does not, however, resolve the most divisive agricultural issues.
  • In addition, individual MEPs from Renew Europe and the Socialists tabled amendments on these subjects in order to limit the potential negative impact on agriculture, and in particular the deletion of any reference to the 10% target.
  • The Greens support the overall approach of the Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans.

However, no amendments were tabled in relation to the recital making “extensive agriculture” the alpha and omega of an effective environmental policy. Yet this type of approach, which moves towards de-growth in agricultural production, poses a problem, not only from a food sovereignty point of view but also from the point of view of protecting natural resources. It would mean more land being farmed, and therefore more deforestation and less biodiversity. Following this “extensification” path, the nature restoration law would be bad for nature.

Our analysis of the initial proposal is available here.