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Highly awaited EU vote on Nature Restoration Law postponed to end of month

A meeting of MEPs to determine the fate of the legislation went well over time.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 15th 2023, 3:14 PM

A COMMITTEE VOTE on the EU’s proposed new law to restore degraded land has been postponed to the end of the month after a jam-packed session went over time this morning.

The legislation would set specific targets for the first time on restoring nature through measures such as rewetting areas of drained peatlands, increasing green spaces in urban areas, and improving biodiversity in lands used for agriculture and forestry.  

There are strong divisions among MEPs over the proposal, with the European People’s Party, the political grouping that Fine Gael sits in, withdrawing from committee negotiations at the end of May.

The EU’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee of 88 MEPs convened this morning for a highly anticipated meeting to vote on the proposed package and determine whether it would move forward to a full vote by the Parliament.

A vote on whether it should be rejected outright was narrowly defeated in a tie of 44 votes to 44 – below the threshold that would have been required to accept the rejection.

This allowed the committee to move forward with voting on compromises to the text.

However, it reached the end of its allocated time without having finished voting on all of the amendments and was beginning to overlap with a scheduled plenary session of the full Parliament on other voting matters. 

The outstanding votes on the nature restoration proposal have been postponed until 27 June.

Supporters of the law say it is necessary for taking action on protecting and restoring the natural world to allow plants, animals, birds and insects to survive and thrive, carbon to be stored in the land instead of being released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, and humans to continue to benefit from the land in areas like food production and water quality.

Opponents’ main concerns are with the capacity of member states to carry out the measures proposed, the amount of land that would need to be restored, and to what extent that could mean land currently used for agriculture would need to be repurposed.

The division on the continent spilled over into Irish politics in recent weeks, including between coalition partners Fine Gael and the Green Party.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael said there were aspects of the law that he felt were “going too far and not fully recognising how we use land in Ireland in particular”. 

Junior minister Ossian Smyth of the Greens said he was “disappointed” with the EPP decision to pull out of negotiations: “Forget the coalition and politics, I think Irish people love nature and want to protect it.”

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon during Leaders’ Questions, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said that “instead of supporting the measures, the Taoiseach has slated them”.

“He’s propagated fears that farmers will be forced to leave their land as part of the law. He has done this despite the fact the fact that he knows or at least should know this is not true,” Cairns said.

“There is no future for farming unless we protect our ecosystems and our biodiversity. I should know because I am a farmer, my mother is a farmer, I have lived and worked on a farm for my entire life,” she said.

“I am deeply committed to ensuring that farmers have a future in this country. That means being deeply committed to protecting our critically endangered habitats and biodiversity. I do not see these things as being in any way in conflict with each other. Quite the opposite. They are intrinsically linked.”

In response, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that the government believes the proposed law “provides an opportunity for transformative change in relation to achieving nature restoration in Ireland and the EU as a whole”.

Ireland remains absolutely supportive of the ambition and principles underpinning these regulations. There is a challenge involved in meeting the ambition proposed and that does remain significant.

“These include the extremely tight timeframes for quantification of targets and measures, for the preparation of national restoration plans, and for the delivery of targets,” he said.

“Regarding agriculture, anything farmers will be asked to do will be voluntary, and they will be supported financially for any measures. You’re right to raise that issue because it’s not a question of pitting farmers against biodiversity.”

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