05 June 2023
The sabotage of a crucial European law in favour of nature
05 June 2023
This is a historic opportunity. For the first time, the European Union is proposing to set binding targets for Member States to restore degraded ecosystems in order to “bring nature back into our lives“, thereby implementing the “European Union (EU) Biodiversity Strategy for 2030” that MEPs voted for in June 2021. Following the adoption of a climate law to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the European Parliament and the Council must now vote on a centrepiece of the European Green Deal, the “Nature Restoration Law“, which proposes to restore a minimum of 20% of Europe’s lands and waters by 2030, and all degraded ecosystems by 2050.
Noting that the marine portion of the legislation was insufficient to respond to the climate emergency and to the acute social crisis in Europe’s fishing industry, BLOOM worked with MEPs to propose a series of measures to achieve immediate ecological and social gains, including amendments introducing truly protected marine protected areas, a ban on destructive fishing gears, and protection for European coastal fishers (vessels under 25m).
On 15 June, the members of the Parliament’s Environment Committee will vote on this “Nature Restoration Law”, before a plenary vote scheduled for early July. But while the collapse of biodiversity and climate change have never been so tangible, while flames are ravaging Canada, while unprecedented heat waves are hitting South-East Asia and North Africa, while Spain is on the brink of desertification and France is suffering an unprecedented drought, the very existence of this vital legislation is threatened by an anti-ecological axis formed by an alliance of the right, the far right and the liberals (the “RENEW” group, among which seat MEPs from the French Renaissance presidential party). This harmful coalition, which we’ve been denouncing since 1 March 2023, has decided to do everything in their power to “kill the text”, i.e. to prevent the Commission’s legislative proposal from being amended and adopted by MEPs, by voting at the opening of the sessions to reject the law as a whole and combat its very principle.
This anti-ecological axis already implemented this stategy during the previous votes in the Agriculture (23 May) and Fisheries (24 May 24) Committees. Each time, the support of the liberals enabled an opposition majority to be formed.
The European right and far-right blackmail the Environment Committee
MEPs from the ecological left (Greens/EFA, Socialists & Democrats, The Left) are pinning their hopes on the vote of the “Nature Restoration Law” in the Environment Committee on 15 June, but fear that the alliance of the liberal right (RENEW), the conservative and Eurosceptic right (EPP and ECR), and the far right (ID) will once again come out in force to torpedo the bill. The signs are clearly worrying:
- On 24 May, the European People’s Party (EPP) – which includes France’s Les Républicains MEPs – called on the Commission to withdraw its legislative proposal in order to cut short any new European ambition in terms of protecting and restoring ecosystems.
- At the last rapporteurs’ meeting on Wednesday, 31 May, the EPP group, using as a pretext a spurious existential attack on food sovereignty in Europe and Africa, finally slammed the door on the Environment Committee’s negotiations, despite having spent months tearing the text apart.
- On the same evening, in line with Emmanuel Macron’s “environmental pause” position, the RENEW group negotiated its rallying to the ecological left at the cost of reducing even further the ambition and scope of the text, which had already been greatly diminished by the right and far-right.
The result is a“bare minimum” agreement, reflecting the successive setbacks conceded as a result of the RENEW group’s persistent threats to reject the text and reproduce the scenario already tried and tested in the Agriculture and Fisheries Committees.
These political manipulations demonstrate the irresponsible blindness of the liberal right, the conservative and Eurosceptic right, and the far-right regarding the ecological crisis.
An existential law for our future caught in the crossfire between Manfred Weber and Ursula von der Leyen
Manfred Weber, the German MEP who chairs the EPP group in the European Parliament, and Ursula von der Leyen, from the same political family and German President of the European Commission, are using the “Nature Restoration Law” to stage their opposition. Indeed, the European elections are almost exactly one year away, and the stakes of these elections are more existential to them than the climate. Their focus is set on their short-term political future and the appointment of the Spitzenkandidat for the presidency of the future European commission.
This competition, which is no longer just a rumour, has been publicly noted by politicians such as Jutta Paulus, a German member of the Environment Committee and rapporteur for the Greens/EFA group during negotiations on the “Nature Restoration Law”. On 31 May, she deplored the fact that the EPP’s manoeuvring jeopardised this crucial piece of legislation against a backdrop of clan warfare within the German and European right.
The future of the text depends on RENEW’s liberal right
The last chance of this mandate to protect and restore nature therefore depends on the will of the MEPs from the RENEW group, and in particular Pascal Canfin, the Parliament’s Environment Committee’s chairman, and RENEW member. Facing the anti-ecological, reactionary and Eurosceptic forces of the right and far-right, it would be irresponsible for the RENEW Group to give up this last window of opportunity to concretely act for our future, the climate and the living world.
Essential amendments in the Environment Committee
In the midst of this parliamentary chaos, the ocean, our best ally in the fight against climate change since it absorbs almost a third of our CO2 emissions and over 90% of our excess heat, is being sacrificed. As the scientists reminded us once again in an article signed by some 160 researchers this 31 May, “the most efficient mechanism to restore the abundance of marine life is highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) where fishing and other damaging activities are banned“.
A coherent and effective network of marine protected areas, a ban on destructive fishing techniques and the protection of coastal waters for the benefit of coastal fishers are therefore some of the urgent measures that need to be adopted.
As a result, BLOOM worked with MEPS from the Greens and The Left, Marie Toussaint, Yannick Jadot, Younous Omarjee, Marina Mesure, and Anja Hazekamp, who tabled amendments to enable immediate measures to be adopted in this regard. For the time being, however, the socialist, ecologist and left-wing political groups are simply trying to save this legislation from sinking at the cost of massive concessions. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the amendments supported by BLOOM, which would enable the scientific recommendations to be implemented immediately, will be put to the vote and adopted, despite their vital implications for the ocean and small-scale fishing.
One year ahead of the European elections, the forthcoming votes in the ENVI Committee and the Plenary session will be the tangible and public legacy of the Members of the European Parliament on the protection and restoration of nature. It is up to the members of the RENEW group, who have the power to make or break majorities, to take their responsibilities.
To go further
An article published in the scientific journal Nature estimated that, if current public policies were implemented without further ambition, by the end of the century 2 billion human beings would be faced with fatal heat waves. See Lenton et al (2023) Quantifying the human cost of global warming.
To find out more about the law, visit the Restore Nature inter-NGO website.
 In the Agriculture Committee, the text was rejected by 29 votes to 16, with one abstention. The RENEW MEPs rejected the text by 6 votes, with one abstention, from French MEP Jérémy DECERLE. In the Fisheries Committee, the text was rejected by 15 votes to 13. The RENEW MEPs rejected the text by 3 votes to one, from the French MEP Stéphanie YON-COURTIN.
The IPCC, IPBES and IUCN, which set the international benchmark for climate change, biodiversity protection and nature conservation, all jointly recommend the establishment of genuine marine protected areas, free from industrial exploitation, and a ban on destructive fishing techniques, in favour of small-scale and coastal fishing. See in particular: “Networks of protected areas help maintain ecosystem services, including carbon uptake and storage, and enable future ecosystem-based adaptation options“, IPCC (2019) The ocean and cryosphere in the context of climate change. Summary for policy makers. “Expanding and effectively managing the current network of protected areas, including terrestrial, freshwater and marine areas, is important for safeguarding biodiversity (well established), particularly in the context of climate change (…) This entails planning ecologically representative networks of interconnected protected areas to cover key biodiversity areas“, IPBES (2019) The Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services-Summary for policymakers, IUCN (2020) World Conservation Congress, Marseille : Guidance to identify industrial fishing incompatible with protected areas.