Today the European parliament voted to adopt an EU Nature Restoration Law. At the outset of today’s plenary vote the European Parliament voted against the rejection of the draft law in a tight vote. Irish MEPs’ votes were critical in the end as all thirteen voted against the rejection amendment in a vote where only twelve votes separated the two sides. The parliament also ultimately achieved a tight majority in voting to adopt a position on the draft law meaning that now the final details can be hammered out between the European Council and Parliament with the Commission acting as arbitrator. The Irish government now must adopt a strong negotiating position in Council in line with the strong public support for nature restoration on the ground in Ireland.
However, in order to achieve a majority in the parliament the more progressive groups had to vote in line with the right-wing groups to significantly weaken the ambition of the draft law. Many of these amendments have deleted important sections of the law. This includes the entire section that relates to improving biodiversity within farmland and forestry. This section also contained the rewetting targets for peat soils which have been subject to intense lobbying and misinformation from some within the agricultural lobby. Amendments to delay the implementation of the law also passed. Bizarrely despite the European People’s Party, of which Fine Gael are members, claiming that they were opposing the law in the interests of farmers they ultimately voted against amendments that would have established a new nature restoration fund. The Environmental Pillar had called for this fund to empower farmers with additional money outside of the Common Agricultural Policy so they can lead in the EU’s efforts to restore nature.
In response to today’s vote, members of the Environmental Pillar commented:
Karen Ciesielski, Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar: “Today’s vote in the European Parliament is a great day for all European and Irish citizens who mobilised enmasse to demand political leadership in response to the biodiversity and climate crisis. As a result of public pressure we have seen Irish politicians turn their back on an aggressive misinformation campaign, resulting in strong political support against the rejection of the law in both the Dáil and the European Parliament”
Dr. Elaine McGoff, Head of Advocacy with An Taisce: “While Europe will now have a Nature Restoration Law, as a result of the amendments proposed by certain groups the original ambition has been significantly weakened. The Irish Government now has a key role to play in the negotiations between the Council and the Parliament to bolster the ambition of the law, in line with the wishes of the vast majority of Irish people.”
Oonagh Duggan, Head of Advocacy with Birdwatch Ireland: “All the science shows that biodiversity loss has been particularly severe across Irish and European farmland with a range of once common and abundant species like Curlew now threatened with extinction as a breeding species in Ireland. It is really concerning that the provisions to restore farmland biodiversity and peatlands were gutted from the proposed law. Consistently we have heard farmers say they don’t trust the government to support them to protect and restore nature and to make the changes needed to ensure climate change doesn’t threaten their livelihoods. This confidence must be restored or biodiversity on farmland will disappear and farming itself in many regions will become unviable.”
Fintan Kelly, Agriculture and Land Use Officer, Environmental Pillar: “Nature restoration won’t happen unless it is funded and it won’t happen without farmers’ support and leadership. The decision of the European Parliament to reject proposals that would have made a much stronger commitment to new additional funding for farmers is totally unacceptable and highlights the way the centre-right groups in the European Parliament have been lying to farmers all along. New funding must be delivered at both an EU and a national level and we call on politicians to progress this as a priority in any future negotiations.”
Background: Last summer the European Commission adopted their proposal for a Nature Restoration Law (NRL), which proposes to restore ecosystems across the continent as one of the keystones of the EU’s Green Deal. The draft law was arguably the most ambitious piece of nature legislation to come out of Brussels in thirty years. It is a patchwork of targets designed to address the shortcomings in the existing framework of environmental laws and expand the scope of nature restoration outside of protected areas across farmland, forestry and into the heart of our cities.
Over the last year the draft law has been subject to opposition from lobby groups and conservative elements within the European Parliament, including the European People’s Party (EPP) who under the direction of German MEP Manfred Weber have looked to kill the law in collaboration with far-right elements of the parliament. Despite a massive misinformation campaign by EPP there has been overwhelming support for nature restoration across the EU and Ireland. Over one million EU citizens wrote to MEPs in support of the law and grassroots support in Ireland saw the Irish government support the law in EU Council negotiations and all Irish MEPs committed to vote against rejecting the law in parliament.