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STRASBOURG — Gathered, gathered, it’s the last big match of the season.
This week, just before lawmakers begin their summer break, the European Parliament will fight for nature to be restored.
That of the EU proposal to rehabilitate its damaged ecosystems by 2050 it has one last chance for survival in Wednesday’s plenary session. The bill, a key pillar of the bloc’s Green Deal, limped into Strasbourg to face full Parliament after failing three votes in committee.
If the Nature Restoration Act is rejected on Wednesday, « the game is over, » said Pascal Canfin, a liberal MEP and chair of Parliament’s environment committee. « No one will come back with anything else before the next election. »
Voting will be tight. And if the text fails, it would be the first major Green Deal legislation to fail in Parliament, adding weight to a Conservative campaign to suspend environmental legislation ahead of the 2024 European elections.
For months, supporters and opponents of the law have been exchanging (metaphorical) punches on social media, in committee meetings and in press conferences.
Ahead of the vote, POLITICO looks at the key players in the fight to kill — or save — the Nature Restoration Act.
In the blue corner: opponents of the bill
1 — Manfred Weber
The European People’s Party has led a tireless effort to scrap the legislation, arguing it will have harmful consequences for the bloc’s farmers, allegedly taking land away from production and jeopardizing food security.
Its leader, Manfred Weber, has been among the bill’s staunchest opponents, seizing the debate as a way to portray his group as defending the interests of farmers in Brussels.
Political rivals accused him of using underhanded tactics to ensure his MEPs voted against legislation in agriculture, fisheries and environment committees, including by replacing regular members with others who were quick to fall into line – charges Weber denied. The push also featured an often bizarre social media campaign to highlight the bill’s alleged dangers, culminating in the group claim would destroy Santa’s house in northern Finland.
The EPP leader says the group is ready to commit to the legislation if the Commission presents a new version. « This is not the right time to make this piece of legislation, » Weber She said last month.
« Give me arguments, give me better legislation, then my party is ready to give, » added Weber, urging the Commission to go back to the drawing board and insisting that achieving the EU’s climate and climate goals biodiversity cannot come at the expense of rural areas.
2 – Right-wing groups – and a handful of liberals
Weber’s conservative group has found allies further to the right, among MEPs belonging to the European conservatives and reformists and to the far right Identity and Democracy.
The co-president of the ECR, Nicola Procaccini, a close ally of the Italian premier Giorgia Meloni, defined the proposal on nature as « one of the most significant regulation proposals of the entire legislature » and said he was « quite convinced » of the alliance of right could defeat him. He added that it shows that alliances are shifting in Parliament: « On the Green Geal it is shifting more to the right ».
The EPP push has also found support among Renew Europe lawmakers. About a third of the Liberal group – mostly Dutch, Nordic and German MPs – will vote against the bill on Wednesday, mainly over national concerns.
Swedish Liberal MEP Emma Wiesner, for example, has done just that discussed that the bill will be harmful to Swedish farmers and foresters, while stressful which still supports « an ambitious climate and environment agenda ».
3 — Sector lobbies
A number of lobby groups have also spoken out against the legislation, including those representing European fishermen, foresters and farmers.
The powerful Copa-Cogeca agriculture lobby – which has been accused of representing the interests of large corporate groups over smaller farms – has pushed the narrative that burdening farmers with new green obligations as they deal with the impacts of war in Ukraine and the rising energy prices threaten their livelihoods.
The bill “is poorly constructed, [and] does not have a coherent, clear or dedicated budget” to help land managers implement it, the lobby She said.
Similarly, some business associations, such as the VNO-NCW of the Netherlands, have criticized the proposal, discuss which will create a « blockade for new business and energy transition ».
4 — Skeptical EU countries
Several EU countries have entered the debate, warning that the new measures would be harmful to their agricultural and forestry sectors, as well as people’s property rights and permitting procedures for renewable energy projects.
The Netherlands has been particularly vocal against the bill, asking EU countries to allow more flexibility on how to meet the regulation’s targets, as it could otherwise run afoul of renewable energy or housing projects, for example. “We are concerned about implementation due to our high population density,” She said This was stated by Dutch Environment Minister Christianne van der Wal-Zeggelink.
Other skeptical countries include Poland, Italy, Sweden, Finland and Belgium.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has called for the new nature restoration rules to be put on hold amid a fierce national debate over the legislation.
In the red corner – its defenders
1 — Frans Timmermans
EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans has been at the forefront of the effort to save the rules of nature, tiptoeing with EPP lawmakers during parliamentary committee discussions and issuing misleading statements spread by opponents of the green deal law.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinions but not to their facts,” he said said lawmakers in May, noting that the reason why crops are failing « is related to climate change and biodiversity loss. »
He has repeatedly insisted that the legislation is meant to help farmers in the long term, as it aims to improve soil and water quality, as well as build resilience against natural disasters such as floods, droughts and wildfires. He was also adamant that the Commission will not present a new version of the bill, as requested by the EPP.
« There’s no time for that, » he explained.
2 – Left groups in Parliament – and (most of) liberals
The centre-left Socialists and Democrats in Parliament, the Greens, the Left and part of Renew Europe have been vocal supporters of the Commission’s proposal.
Biodiversity loss and climate change are two sides of the same coin, Mohammed Chahim, vice president of the S&D group, told reporters. « Not linking them is being naïve, at best, and at worst, you’re really trying to undermine the Green Deal, and that’s what’s happening. »
The Renew group was split on the issue, but the majority backed a compromise deal ahead of Wednesday’s vote to try to persuade some EPP lawmakers to switch sides and win enough support for the legislation.
3 —Teresa Ribera
Spain’s environment minister has spoken out in favor of the proposal, defending its importance both at national and European level as a means of increasing resilience to natural disasters and climate impacts such as drought.
“It is very important not only to conserve but also to restore nature… There will be time to improve what we have on the table, but for now, the best thing we can do is reach an agreement,” said Ribera. at an informal meeting of environment ministers on Monday.
Apart from Spain, 19 EU countries supported the adoption of a common position on the text in June.
Ribera also indicated that the dossier will be among the priorities of the Spanish presidency of the Council if the Parliament adopts a position that will allow MEPs to start negotiations with EU countries.
4 — Big companies and banks
Several multinationals, including Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Unilever, have urged MEPs to support the legislation, arguing that restoring nature is good for business.
The new rules, they say, will boost EU food production in the long run as they help counter the decline of pollinators and increase CO2 uptake from the atmosphere, reducing climate impacts.
Owen Bethell, senior global public affairs manager for environmental impact at Nestle, stressed farmers’ concerns need to be addressed and said they should be given support to adapt to the new rules. « But in the short term, I think it’s important to keep the momentum going on this law because it sends the right signal, that change needs to happen, » he said.
The argument that nature is good for business has also received support from Frank Elderson, a member of the executive board of the European Central Bank, who warned: « Destroy nature and destroy the economy. »
5 — Scientists and NGOs
More than 6,000 scientists showed support for the Commission’s nature restoration plan, arguing that healthy ecosystems will store greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the EU’s goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050.
« Protecting and restoring nature and reducing the use of chemicals and pollutants are essential to maintaining long-term production and improving food security, » they wrote.
Green activists have also led a strong push to get lawmakers to support the proposal, staging protests and making arguments to counter the EPP narrative on social media.
« The European Parliament must stand strong against falsified pushbacks from Conservatives and act resolutely to protect citizens from the devastating impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss, » WWF said. said in a statement before the vote.
Watching from the sidelines
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a member of the EPP, has remained visibly quiet on the matter, despite growing calls to get involved and help save the bill.
The situation is a Paragraph 22 for the German official: the bill on nature is part of the Green Deal on which his reputation and his re-election as president of the Commission have staked, but speaking in its favor would mean going against the official position of the his party.
« I still expect a public reaction from you, » said César Luena of the S&D group, the MEP heading up the dossier. « Or if it’s not public, then a backlash within the EPP, » he added, suggesting her silence could be held against her in a re-election bid next year if the legislation doesn’t pass this week. .