Frustration in Brussels over the impending failure of the Nature Restoration Law

Frustration in Brussels over the impending failure of the Nature Restoration Law

This should have generally been the last formal hurdle to the much-discussed European law. On Monday, European environment ministers are scheduled to give their approval for the last time to the so-called Nature Restoration Law. But after the Netherlands recently withdrew its support, and Hungary suddenly joined the resistance last week, the law is now at risk of being overturned.

On Friday, a scheduled vote on the law was removed from the agenda for Monday's meeting at the last minute due to a lack of sufficient support. It is unusual in Brussels for a bill to remain stalled at this stage – EU member states have already voted in favor of variants of the law on several occasions, and the European Parliament recently approved the final proposal by a majority.

The Netherlands also plans to support the law, which was significantly watered down during negotiations with the European Parliament. According to outgoing Minister Christiane van der Waals (Nature and Nitrogen, VVD), this was wise, because the Netherlands obtained many concessions in the negotiations and did not want to become an “untrustworthy negotiating partner” in Europe.

But under pressure from a proposal from the House of Representatives, the outgoing government recently changed its position and announced that it would continue to vote against the law in Brussels. Finland, Sweden and Poland, among others, have indicated from the beginning that they cannot support the law. Following the Netherlands' turn, Hungary also suddenly changed its mind last week, having always supported the law until now, meaning that there are now not enough supporters in Brussels.

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'A dangerous precedent'

This led to frustration in Brussels on Monday towards the European Commission and several EU member states that support the law. European Commissioner Virginius Sinkevicius (Environment) spoke of a “disastrous signal for European credibility.” The Lithuanian referred, among other things, to the global agreements on the protection and promotion of biodiversity reached at the insistence of the European Union in 2022, with which Europe itself now faces the risk of non-compliance. According to Sinkevicius, the EU is at risk of arriving “empty-handed” at the next new biodiversity summit.

Many European ministers also expressed frustration and concern about the imminent failure of the law. Spanish Climate Minister Teresa Ribera said: “I cannot comprehend the fact that we will abandon this matter at this moment.” Danish Minister of State Lars Friel Petersen expressed concern about the “dangerous precedent” set by the last-minute blockade. “We must be able to count on support for the compromises reached.”

Irish Climate Minister Eamonn Ryan asked: “How can the European Parliament reach a settlement with us in the future if we do not ultimately agree to the agreement reached?” He warned of a signal in the run-up to “the European elections, where we say: the European system is not working, we are not protecting nature and we are not taking the climate seriously.” That would be a great shame!”

Big delay

On Monday, Hungarian Environment Minister Aniko Reis defended her country's position by pointing to “new developments that we cannot ignore,” pointing to the “sensitive situation in the agricultural sector” and “European commitments regarding food security.”

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How the Nature Restoration Act will proceed is uncertain. Belgian Environment Minister Alain Maron confirmed on Monday that his country, which currently chairs European Union meetings, will do everything in its power in the near future to find a majority in favor of the law. But this is unlikely to succeed – none of the opponents have shown any action yet. “I do not expect the Netherlands to be the country that will act on this file,” outgoing Minister Rob Gitten (Climate, D66) also said in Brussels on Monday.

If the law cannot be finalized before the European elections in early June, the new European Parliament will first have to consider it again. This certainly means a significant delay, but it is also uncertain whether there is still sufficient support for legislation of an ambitious nature in the new European Parliament.

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