Environmental campaigners are used to peak workloads during important Brussels votes, but it’s been all hands to the deck since the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) shocked nature defenders by setting themselves up as the anti-nature party, by aligning themselves against the proposed Nature Restoration Law.
The issue came to a head on 15 June when, under the leadership of Manfred Weber, EPP and other right-wing parties proposed to kill the Law, although this was rejected when the vote ended in a 44:44 split.
This may sound like a victory, but the Law was filleted by a series of extreme amendments that would stop it from doing the necessary work of encouraging Member States to overturn decades of nature degradation.
The Commission’s original target to restore 20 per cent of ecosystems was slashed to 10 per cent, and while some ecosystems also have a specific target for the percentage of degraded areas that need to be restored by 2050, forests were left out since the lawmakers voted down the forest-dedicated Article 10.
This omission would have a devastating effect on nature across the EU as European forests are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate – already only 14 per cent of protected forest habitats are in good condition.
Without concrete targets, forests risk being excluded from the #RestoreNature Law, which is exactly what the Swedish, Finnish and Estonian forestry sectors called for a year ago.
There was not enough time on 15 June to discuss all of the proposed amendments to the law and so the final votes were postponed until 27 June.
In the meantime, the European Council had their say on June 20 and they voted to preserve forests! Their position - called a ‘general approach’ in EU-speak - is used to negotiate with the European Parliament and Commission. Their text preserves restoration targets for forests and incentives to fund foresters to manage forests well.
Unfortunately, despite being given 12 days grace to make a decision, the Parliament failed to adopt a position on 27 June and so the Environment Committee report was not adopted. There will now be a slew of further proposed amendments, including one to reject the file entirely. Essentially this means the Environment Committee drama will now be replayed with all the 705 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in plenary.
This means that the EPP has put themselves in opposition to the majority of European Member States who support clear action on forests. In advance of the Parliament Plenary (expected in July), MEPs will still be able to table amendments. It is vital that they keep the ambition to restore forests and other ecosystems high.