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Fine Gael's EU party pulls out of talks on high-profile nature law

The proposed law, which would set targets for restoring nature, has been the subject of controversy in Europe and in Ireland.

Lauren Boland reports from Brussels

FINE GAEL’S POLITICAL group in the EU Parliament has pulled out of negotiations on a high-profile piece of proposed legislation to restore and protect nature.

The European People’s Party (EPP) walked out of committee talks about the Nature Restoration Law today, releasing a statement describing “serious concerns” over the proposal.

Before the EU Parliament votes on legislation, each ‘file’ is assigned to a committee of MEPs who debate the matter and vote on a proposal to go forward to the parliament.

Such votes are always the result of intense negotiations and compromises, but a withdrawal from negotiations is more unusual.

The proposed law would set legally-binding restoration targets for ecosystems for the first time that would need to cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea area by 2030 and all ecosystems that are in need of restoration by 2050.

One such measure would be the rewetting of some drained peatlands with a view to restoring degraded soils and trapping carbon in the ground rather than allowing it to be emitted into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The Greens and other MEPs on the left have stressed that the law would be of major importance to nature, biodiversity, and battling the climate crisis.

However, the EPP has said this afternoon in a statement it believes the law would “lead to less food production in Europe, pushing food prices even higher” and risk “undermining food security in Africa even more and blocking infrastructure projects that are crucial for our climate transition”.

The EPP’s chief negotiator on nature restoration, MEP Christine Schneider, said: “We cannot continue as if nothing has happened to our economy since the start of the war and the excessive pressure it puts on our rural communities and our farmers. The EPP Group is in favour of nature protection and restoration, but this law is simply not good enough.”

The proposed legislation has also become politically contentious in Ireland in recent weeks, with debate focusing on to what extent land that was drained in the past for agricultural use may need to be rewetted.

Speaking to The Journal, Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe said he was “saddened but not entirely surprised by the European People’s Party’s walkout from these talks”.

“I think we’re seeing a reaction to the European Green Deal from the centre right in Europe where they are suggesting that the deal has gone too far, but I think they are only looking at the short term,” he said.

“It’s really important to look at the bigger picture and the big picture on the Nature Restoration Law is that we’re seeing an unprecedented loss of habitats and species around Europe and a loss of soil quality, and unless we tackle these issues, we’ll see an increase in the amount of extreme weather events, crop failure, droughts, and other events in Europe and around the world.

“If we scrap the Nature Restoration Law, I think it puts the agriculture sector at risk. It puts jobs in agriculture at risk and the long-term picture could be quite bleak.”

Also reacting to the announcement, Fine Gael/EPP MEP Deirdre Clune said that there are “a lot of people who feel very strongly about the legislation”.

“It still has to go through the plenary in July. We’re at the stages of seeing how it goes and where it ends up,” she said.

Fellow Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey said that the voting system is “not like at home where it’s a whip type of system, so there’s a little bit more flexibility in terms of how that works”, but that members are faced with the question of “can you change something with amendments or is it fundamentally not where EPP wants to be”.

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