EU parliament backs contested biodiversity bill

EU parliament backs contested biodiversity bill

Farmers have a long list of grievances including EU legislation and have taken to the streets across Europe
Farmers have a long list of grievances including EU legislation and have taken to the streets across Europe. Photo: JOHN THYS / AFP/File
Source: AFP

EU lawmakers on Tuesday gave the final green light to a milestone bill aimed at protecting nature in the bloc, overriding conservative attempts to torpedo a law that has angered European farmers.

The rules are a central part of the EU's ambitious environmental goals under the Green Deal -- a set of laws aimed at helping the bloc meet its climate goals -- but farmers say they threaten their livelihoods.

The legislation demands the European Union's 27 member states put in place measures to restore at least 20 percent of the bloc's land and seas by 2030.

Farmers have a long list of grievances and have taken to the streets across Europe, clogging roads including in Brussels where EU institutions are based.

Protests continued on Tuesday in Spain, where farmers in the northeastern Catalonia region gathered near the French border. Meanwhile, thousands of Polish farmers demonstrated against the Green Deal and other gripes in Warsaw.

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They lament what they say are excessively restrictive environmental rules, competition from cheap imports from outside the European Union and low incomes.

Heeding their call for less red tape and bureaucracy, the conservative European People's Party (EPP) said at the start of parliament's session in Strasbourg that it would not approve the law, putting the future of the legislation in jeopardy.

Those attempts were in vain as the text passed with the support of 329 lawmakers while 275 voted against. It will enter into force after formal adoption by EU states.

"Today is an important day for Europe, as we move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it," said Cesar Luena, the lawmaker who spearheaded the legislation through parliament.

"The new law will also help us to fulfil many of our international environmental commitments. The regulation will restore degraded ecosystems while respecting the agricultural sector by giving flexibility to member states," he added.

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Before the vote, EPP chief Manfred Weber said the law had been "badly drafted".

"The EPP group is fully committed to climate change and also to the biodiversity goals, also agreed on an international level, but this law is not delivering on these issues," he told journalists in Strasbourg.

'Fighting for planet's survival'

Liberal and socialist lawmakers as well as green activists hailed the move.

"The Nature Restoration Law has always been so much more than a law to bring back nature. It is a symbol that Europe can, and will, commit to fighting for the survival of our planet," the #RestoreNature coalition, consisting of BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, EEB and WWF EU, said in a statement.

Pascal Canfin, the French MEP who heads the parliament's environment committee, thanked the EPP lawmakers who voted for the text.

"If we have won the battle for the law on nature restoration, it is because part of the European right was able to resist allying with the anti-ecological populism of the far-right, against multiple false and misleading attacks on this text," he said.

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He said the law was committed to reversing the trend of nature's regression in Europe.

Not everyone was happy. Right-wing ECR MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen, who voted against the bill, described its approval as "very unfortunate".

"The consequences will be enormous. Nature conservation will become more important than food security, housing needs or road safety," he warned.

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Source: AFP

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