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European Union ministers approve contested Nature Restoration Law

Jun 18, 2024

Luxembourg City [Luxembourg], June 18: European Union environment ministers on Monday approved a much fought-over conservation law intended to restore habitats to their natural condition.
The purpose of the Nature Restoration Law is to regrow forests, re-wet moors and return rivers to their natural, free-flowing states. The law has proven controversial, particularly because of fears of heavy restrictions on farmers.
Ministers for 20 of the EU's 27 member states voted in favour, representing 66% of the population. A decision by EU member states was held up until now because not enough national ministers were prepared to back it, despite a preliminary agreement among senior diplomats last year.
Austrian Environment Minister Leonor Gewessler's decision to back the law - against the wishes of Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer - provided the necessary majority. Her decision sparked uproar in Vienna, with Nehammer saying he will seek to overturn the decision in the EU's top court.
Gewessler may face criminal charges in Austria for abuse of office, a senior political official in Vienna said.
Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Finland and Sweden voted against the legislation. Belgium, which is currently responsible for chairing talks among member states, abstained.
The conservation law sets a target for the EU to restore at least 20% of the bloc's land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.
Funding for the improvements is expected to come from both the private sector and member states' budgets, though some EU programmes - such as regional development funding - could help cover some of the costs.
According to EU figures, around 80% of habitats are in poor condition. In addition, 10% of bee and butterfly species are threatened with extinction and 70% of soils are in an unhealthy state.
Welcoming the ministers' decision, EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said on X, "We are still on track to reverse the biodiversity loss, let's now start work together and show that EU is still leading the way." Confirming the adoption of the bill, the Belgian government said on X that it is "the final step before this law can enter into force." But EU farming union Copa-Cogeca posted on X that the law "will cause legal battles at regional, national, and [EU] levels, with the future unclear as to how or when this law will be implemented." EU member states had struck a deal with the European Parliament last year, meaning Monday's vote would normally have been a formality. It was held up, however, by huge farmers' protests lashing out at the constraints of EU regulations, among other things.
In Austria, the general secretary of Nehammer's conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) argued that Gewessler - of the Greens - had deliberately infringed constitutional law. The two parties are in coalition.
"Leonore Gewessler is placing herself above the constitution, because she is unable to act in line with the law on account of her Green ideology," general secretary Christian Stocker said. The ÖVP argues that Gewessler is bound by an objection to the law raised by Austria's federal states. Gewessler believes that this veto is no longer valid.
Source: Qatar Tribune