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Home » 4 Things to Watch in EU Nature Law Talks

4 Things to Watch in EU Nature Law Talks

by Keegan Ross
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The EU’s effort to pass a law restoring some of the Continent’s degraded land and water is back after a near-death experience in the European Parliament; now the final form of the legislation will be hammered out during talks that start Wednesday.

The Nature Restoration Law survived an attempt led by the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) to kill it, but only made it out of Parliament after being watered down. The aim of restoring 30 percent of the Continent’s degraded ecosystems by 2030 was shelved; Parliament now wants 20 percent, the same target the European Commission and Council of the EU call for.

That means Parliament loses its traditional role of taking a more hardline green approach compared to EU countries in trilogue talks among the three EU institutions.

“It will be a rather weird trilogue,” predicted Pascal Canfin, a member of the liberal Renew Europe group and chair of the environment committee. “We are below the general approach of the Council, it’s always the opposite, at least regarding the Green Deal texts.”

But the lack of deep differences between the positions of Parliament and member countries could mean speedier talks.

“Eighty percent of the text is the same. But of course, then it’s about the 20 percent remaining,” Canfin said. “So, that’s why I think, on this basis, we could go quite fast in the trilogue.”

Here’s a rundown of the main issues to look out for:

1. Muted clashes between Council and Parliament

Both the Parliament and the Council are pushing to lower some of the targets in the Commission’s overall proposal — but in some cases countries have tougher targets than MEPs, which is unusual.

In its position, Parliament calls for scrapping the text’s Article 9, which sets binding numerical targets for the restoration of agricultural ecosystems, including the rewetting of 30 percent of the bloc’s drained peatlands. MEPs want to decrease the Commission’s goal to restore 25,000 kilometers of free-flowing rivers by 2030 to 20,000 kilometers. They also propose to weaken specific goals for the restoration of terrestrial, coastal and freshwater ecosystems by dropping interim targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050.

Council didn’t change the Commission’s proposal on these points.

As well, in its original proposal, the Commission called for countries to ensure key ecosystems do not deteriorate over time. Council wants a weaker interpretation, while in its position Parliament called for simply killing off that provision.

However, both sides want to delete specific numerical goals for restoring urban ecosystems, notably targets for increasing green spaces and tree cover in cities.

They also both call for scrapping the Commission’s aim to increase the share of diversity-supporting vegetation on farmlands — hedges, ponds or ditches — to cover 10 percent of the EU’s farmland by 2030, up from the current 7 percent. This was a key demand of conservative MEPs, who argued it will take productive land away from farmers — something the Commission and many scientists denied.

2. Fight over a fund to support farmers

There are differences over how to finance the implementation of the regulation and how to compensate land managers for any restoration measures.

The Commission didn’t propose new cash for the implementation of the regulation, instead inviting countries to tap into existing EU schemes like the LIFE environment program. But that’s not enough for the Parliament and the Council, which both argue funding is key to reaching a compromise.

The Parliament and EU countries want the Commission to figure out if new cash is needed and to possibly propose a plan to create new funding mechanisms from 2027. But that money can’t come from the Common Agricultural Policy, the Parliament said.

Getting a deal on this is crucial in ensuring the EPP and a majority of EU countries back any final agreement on the text.

3. The EPP will be keeping a very close watch on the talks

The EPP tried and failed to kill the bill, but did succeed in watering it down. Now its MEPs will ensure their amendments aren’t junked.

“We will pay a lot of attention to trilogue negotiations to ensure these elements remain on the table,” said Esther de Lange, an EPP member who’s been at the forefront of the campaign to reject the legislation.

But César Luena, a member of the Socialists & Democrats and lead negotiator on the text, said he wasn’t happy over Parliament weakening the text, dropping Article 9 and restricting the scope of legislation so restoration measures are only carried in Natura 2000 protected sites. He suggested pushing for Parliament to accept a more ambitious outcome than what it passed last week.

“I think we’ll need to restrict some of the things that have come in [the Parliament’s position] and include other things that aren’t there,” he told a press conference last week. “But negotiations are underway … There is room for maneuver.”

Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans is trying to get the EPP to return to the negotiating table.

“It’s not winner takes all in this Parliament, it is also respect for the minorities that have lost the vote and their ideas could help make this legislation better,” he said. “My offer to the EPP is let’s continue, let’s negotiate.”

4. Spain’s election could upend talks

Spain’s center-left government made this file one of the priorities of its Council presidency, but that could be derailed by Sunday’s election. Polls show that the center-right Popular Party is leading, with Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists appearing to be just 5 points behind.

Neither party is projected to secure an outright majority, which means they will have to form a coalition to govern, if the polling translates into the official results.

The Popular Party is expected to attempt to partner with the far-right Vox party, while Sánchez will seek support from the far-left Sumar party.

The dozen PP lawmakers in the European Parliament voted against the bill last week, as did the four Vox MEPs.

For now the Spanish presidency says there’s nothing to worry about, with a spokesperson insisting the election won’t affect talks.

“Regardless of the elections, Spain will carry out an effective and committed role as Presidency of the EU Council,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement, adding that it “will work for an early agreement in trilogues.”

The presidency is supposed to be neutral in negotiations, but a new administration in Madrid could put Spain in line with a group of EU countries with conservative governments — including Poland, Italy, Finland and Sweden — that want to give national authorities more leeway in implementing the targets.

Source : Politico

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