Start over with the Nature Restoration Law


Start over with the Nature Restoration Law

Nature restoration

Europe is delivering on a positive climate change agenda. The EPP is proud to be a driving force in shaping and adopting the Green Deal. We believe climate change is the biggest challenge of our generation, and we must get it right. This also means criticising legislation when it is not up to our standards. This is the case with the Nature Restoration Law: it should be rejected.

The controversy about Europe’s Nature Restoration Law has exposed a deep divide between politicians who believe climate and nature considerations outweigh all other concerns, and those who look for a balance between the impact of climate change and the people of Europe. The debate, which has been falsely framed as an opposition between supporters and enemies of nature, is in fact all about the impact of climate change policies on the lives of Europeans.

The vehemence of the accusations against us reflect this. Liberal and Social Democrat decision-makers have called us the European Trump movement. Though when they lost votes in three parliamentary committees, they called the results “meaningless”, reminiscent of Trump’s refusal to accept the election outcome in the US elections. Their narrative is clear: if you don’t agree with us, you are not a democrat - absurd and extremely worrisome for the future of our parliamentary democracy in Europe.

 The law’s objective is to restore nature back to its state of 1950. It challenges local and regional governments to do the impossible: turn back 70 years of changes to nature in about 25 years. These goals go far beyond our international commitments we signed up to and it achieves its goal by reducing productive land, forest or sea areas without any consideration of the social and economic consequences.

We should create laws that provide a realistic and effective way to achieve our climate and biodiversity goals

The law states that we should restore nature in 20% of areas that are “in need of restoration” by 2030 and repair them completely by 2050. The problem is we do not know which areas would be affected and the Commission is refusing to tell us. What we do know is that the definition is so broad that the legal application could affect almost all European territory. As it stands, the law will have massive consequences for the planning and permitting procedures for local, regional and national authorities in all Member States.

The main instrument the law proposes is to reduce productive land, forest and sea areas to allow restoration to take place, an idea that already exists in the Common Agricultural Policy, called set-aside, and which obliges farmers to not use 4% of their land to allow for nature to recover. The results of set-aside are good for nature, but they also reduce food production which drives up prices. In fact, we immediately paused the set-aside when the Russian invasion of Ukraine threatened global food security. Our farmers should produce as much as possible to help us absorb the negative consequences of the war. They deserve our gratitude, not our criticism.

Even with this emergency measure, Europeans are suffering from inflation that is mainly driven by higher food prices. In some European countries, food prices have gone up by more than 20%. In these circumstances, it is simply irresponsible to reduce food production in any way. In the Nature Restoration Law, the Commission proposes reducing productive land, forest and sea areas by a staggering 10%. Even the Commission admitted this will reduce food production. We refuse to accept this.

The negative consequences of the very broad definitions combined with fixed targets will be many. Restoring 20% of nature to the standards of the 1950s would mean in Flanders that they would lose more than a quarter of agricultural land. In Helsinki it could mean tearing down buildings to allow nature to come back, even though Finland is almost completely covered by forests. In France, Portugal and Spain it would mean leaving dead wood on forest floors, increasing the risk of forest fires. In the Netherlands, it will limit permitting for renewable energy and housing projects even more than previous European and national laws have already done.

Last but not least, this law will add another instrument to the toolbox of Extinction Rebellion and other climate NGOs to take governments to court based on European laws to slow down or totally block economic activity in some areas. Instead of shutting down governments via legal procedures, we should create laws that provide a realistic and effective way to achieve our climate and biodiversity goals.

The Nature Restoration Law has good intentions but would be a disaster for rural communities, farmers and fisherman and public authorities having to deal with the legal consequences. That is why we are convinced that we must vote to reject the Commission proposal. We are guided by science, but also by social and economic realities that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Europe. They should be taken seriously; the Commission should start over with the Nature Restoration Law.

Note to editors

The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 177 Members from all EU Member States

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