16 July 2023
Exceptional citizen mobilization leads to the adoption of the Nature Restoration Law
16 July 2023
27 June was a day of mourning for the biosphere, with the rejection of the Nature Restoration Law by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee. On 12 July, the turnaround was as spectacular as the mobilization of citizens that enabled the Nature Restoration Law to be adopted in extremis, by 336 votes to 300, against all predictions that the vote would lose.
For weeks, and particularly in the last 24 hours before the vote, people united in their thousands to prevent politicians from fulfilling the prophecy of nature sabotage foretold by the European right. The citizens’ will has rewritten the unacceptable narrative of a Europe unwilling to protect and restore its ecosystems. Although the text falls far short of the issues it seeks to address, it represents a victory for citizens over our ongoing environmental tragedy.
CITIZENS, ACTIVISTS AND NGOS: A WINNING COMBINATION FOR THE OCEAN
The saga of the Nature Restoration Law was fraught with traps. At every obstacle thrown up by “lobbyists from within”, i.e. MEPs defending industrial interests, citizens, NGOs, activists and parliamentarians in favor of nature mobilized relentlessly. And it paid off. Against all odds, despite the sordid political calculations and opacity of the European institutions, the voices of thousands of citizens echoed through the Parliament and overturned the outcome of the vote.
An anti-ecological alliance of the right (the EPP group) and the far right, backed by the liberal right (the Renew group formed by Emmanuel Macron in the European Parliament) had vowed to “kill” the text, which sets binding targets of 20% restoration of natural areas by 2030 and of all degraded ecosystems by 2050. Systematically, in the specialized Committees of the European Parliament: first in the Agriculture Committee (23 May), then in the Fisheries Committee (24 May) and finally in the Environment Committee, on 27 June.
BLOOM has been working relentlessly for months in the European Parliament to advance common-sense measures for the ocean:
- Real protection for so-called “protected” marine areas, with a ban on destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling. This is an obvious measure that runs counter to an absurd reality: 86% of Europe’s so-called “protected” areas are heavily trawled!
- A ban on supertrawlers over 25 meters long in European coastal waters (12 nautical miles, or 22 km), to protect both ecosystems and coastal fishers.
- Priority allocation of fishing quotas to artisanal fishers with vessels under 12 meters in length using selective gear that is not dragged over the bottom or through the water column (so-called “passive” gear such as lines, nets or traps).
In the final run-up to the plenary vote on the law, and in a political climate of rare tension, MP Younous Omarjee (GUE/NGL) was able to table two of his three flagship measures for the ocean: the creation of real Marine Protected Areas (amendment 77) and the exclusion of industrial giants from coastal waters (amendment 78).
These measures were supported by citizens, by climate activists Camille Étienne and Adelaïde Charlier and by MEPs from different political backgrounds such as Raphaël Glucksmann and Aurore Lalucq (S&D), Catherine Chabaud (Renew, where the French Renaissance MEPs sit) and Caroline Roose (The Greens) and other MEPs such as Karen Melchior (Denmark), Martin Hojsik (Slovakia), Róża Thun und Hohenstein (Renew, Poland) and François-Xavier Bellamy (EPP, Les Républicains, France).
Unfortunately, Mr. Omarjee’s ‘ocean’ amendments were not adopted during the plenary vote, nor were most of the amendments aimed at improving the text, which was further weakened by a series of amendments from the right. But the ideas did make progress, and that’s thanks to public pressure.
AN EXTRAORDINARY MOBILIZATION OF CITIZENS
The Socialists (S&D), the Greens and The Left, all unquestionably in favor of the law, were not numerous enough to form a majority. For the text to be adopted, and for Younous Omarjee’s amendments on the ocean to be incorporated, the support of MEPs from the liberal right (Renew) was needed. That’s when citizens once again intervened on a massive scale. Thousands called on Stéphane Séjourné, the chairman of the Renew group, and it worked! Mr. Séjourné responded to each and every message. But what was the problem? His standard answer didn’t address the questions posed by citizens: would the Renew group adopt the Nature Restoration Law and the two key amendments for the ocean?
English translation : “Good evening, on the subject of the Nature Restoration Law in the European Parliament. I’m very moved by this mobilisation.
But you’re preaching to the choir! It’s the European right that’s doing everything it can to block it. Rest assured that your MEPs in my group @Ensemble_UE are fully mobilised to ensure that this law passes. As President of @RenewEurope, I’m trying to find a compromise with all nationalities so that this law comes to fruition. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it. The moment of truth will be next week in Strasbourg. Things are never simple at a European level. You don’t always get everything you want, but you can save the essentials. That’s the European spirit of compromise. Nature and the Green Deal deserve it.”
In addition to being evasive, his reply glossed over the fact that it was his group that had enabled the text to be rejected in the Committee votes over the previous weeks.
The public were not fooled: we deciphered Mr. Séjourné’s response and they went back to the drawing board to ask for further clarification. With his back to the wall, Mr Séjourné took up these requests in an official communication and committed his group’s position in favor of adopting the text. Above all, however, the tenacity of our citizens enabled us to make a massive breakthrough in favor of ocean protection. The President of Renew made an unprecedented concession by publicly announcing his support for the measure proposed by Mr. Omarjee, i.e. the banning of gigantic industrial vessels over 25 meters and up to 140 meters in European coastal waters!
English translation : With just a few hours to go before the vote on the Nature Restoration Law, I’d like to come back to you.
My group and I are trying to save the text and find a majority.
The @RenewEurope voting list will go:
- against the motion to reject the text.
- in favor of an obligation to restore 30% of endangered ecosystems by 2030.
- in favor of the law on nature restoration. On the final vote.Along with many colleagues from the @Ensemble_UE delegation, we will also be supporting the exclusion of vessels over 25m from coastal waters.
THE LAW RESCUED FROM RUIN
On the morning of 12 July, the left-wing environmentalists who had fought like mad against the European right were disheartened. All their calculations and estimation tables gave an identical result for the outcome of the vote: 30 more votes were needed for the Nature Restoration Law to pass.
But the BLOOM team, from Strasbourg late into the night, could see that Stéphane Séjourné was still responding to each and every one of the citizens’ questions. We saw the direct effects of the power of citizen mobilization. Right up to the last moment, we believed it was still possible to win…and we did.
On 12 July, the Nature Restoration Law was passed in extremis, by 336 votes to 300, defying all predictions that the vote would lose. The odds were stacked against it, but the citizens showed that thousands of eyes were keeping a close eye on what was going on within these distant and opaque institutions. The pressure worked. The balance shifted, and the text was saved.
Even if the text falls far short of what is needed to restore and protect European ecosystems, and the tricky ‘trilogue’ stage is still yet to begin in September, this law represents a victory for citizen power over the deadly interests of a handful of voracious industrialists and short-sighted politicians.
Not only did citizen pressure enable the law to be passed by Parliament, but our campaign enabled us to take an absolutely major step forward in our fight to protect the ocean. We have forced into the public arena common-sensical measures to prevent the ravaging of European waters by a handful of industrial monsters who suck up fish by the hundreds of thousands of kilos every day, as if they were inert objects and not wild animals. BLOOM has no intention of giving up. It’s full steam ahead for 2025.
AIM FOR 2025: THE OCEAN NEEDS UNWAVERING CITIZEN ACTION
Emmanuel Macron wants to make France “a great ocean nation” and will host the United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2025. The eyes of the world will be on the French President. France has two years to finally take action on climate and biodiversity, and stop pretending to be something it’s not: a champion of the ocean. BLOOM has two years to implement its very clear program: organize mobilization so that the government cracks under citizen pressure, protects coastal ecosystems, and puts an end to the pretence of protection by creating real Marine Protected Areas where fishing methods that shred the seabed and marine animals are banned.