A week on, EU nature restoration plan remains in limbo

Credit: Niels van der Pas

A week after EU legislation aimed at restoring nature damaged by pollution was put on hold, it remains unclear what will happen next. 

The Netherlands was one of the countries to say it would vote against the nature restoration law, after a majority of MPs called on environment minister Christianne van der Wal to say no. Hungary also opposed the legislation, which had been approved by the European parliament and just awaited individual country approvals. 

The new law sets a target for the EU to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050 and has already been weakened from its original draft to meet Dutch and other objections. 

The legislation would have required member states to take action to improve their local environment with binding targets covering biodiversity, insect life and other issues, but was considered controversial because of the possible impact on farming and house building programmes.  

The measure should have been approved by European environment ministers last week but was dropped from the agenda on Monday, effectively freezing the law’s final approval, after the lack of Dutch and other support emerged. Austria, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Poland and Sweden had also said they would vote no, or abstain.

The legislation may not be back on the negotiating table under after the June parliamentary elections and the appointment of a new European Commission.

Belgium’s climate change minister Alain Maron told a press conference after the measure was taken off the agenda that “this is definitely not the end of the story.”

Efforts will now begin to “seek the necessary qualified majority to bring the file home,” he told reporters. 

Supporters of the plan in the Dutch parliament say they fear the last-minute “no” will have damaged the Dutch position and give rise to fears that the Netherlands cannot be depended on.

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