The Nature Restoration Act is intended to slow down and restore the decline of European nature. Last spring, the proposal entered turbulent waters. Several Member States feared that their agricultural sector or economic development would be hampered. In the European Parliament, the EPP group argued that European food security would be threatened. Despite this history, the EU countries and Parliament have now reached an agreement.
Restoration measures must therefore be introduced in at least 20 percent of all land and sea areas in Europe by 2030. By 2050, this should be extended to all ecosystems where restoration is needed.
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Numerous habitats have been listed that are included in the scope of the Nature Restoration Act, and detailed objectives are set for the Member States for each of these areas. By 2030, at least 30 percent of the habitat types covered by the new law must be restored to good condition, 60 percent by 2040, and 90 percent by 2050.
Plant 3 billion trees
One of the final points of discussion was the scope of the Nature Restoration Act. It has now been agreed that priority will be given to the already protected Natura 2000 areas until 2030. When an area is in good condition, Member States will have to strive to prevent (new) deterioration. This is an obligation of best efforts, and therefore not an obligation of results. This deterioration ban was also a concern for the Flemish government, which feared that too little account was being taken of densely populated areas.
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Other elements of the agreement include that 3 billion additional trees will be planted in the European Union and that Europe must have at least 25,000 kilometers of free-flowing rivers – without man-made barriers.
From 2030, there should be no net loss of the total national area of urban greenery and of tree cover in urbanized areas. Afterwards, both must grow back. The Member States will be checked for this every six years.
Emergency brake for agriculture
At the request of the European Parliament, an emergency brake will be placed on the application of the nature restoration law. This means that in exceptional circumstances, the targets for agro-ecosystems can be suspended if they threaten to jeopardize the availability of agricultural land for food supply.
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The political agreement must now be formally approved by the European Parliament and the 27 Member States. Normally something like this is a formality, but because the nature restoration law was very controversial, no one dares to put their hand in the fire for it.
The law aroused resistance in our country, especially in Flanders, from agriculture, industry and employers, who feared the impact of extensive nitrogen regulations. The Flemish government argued in favor of weakening the proposed European nature restoration law.
Flanders makes an impact analysis
Now that a political agreement has been reached on the European nature restoration law, Flanders will have a new impact analysis made to determine what the regulation means in concrete terms. This is what Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) said in an initial response. She also wants to ensure “whether there remains sufficient flexibility to make further enormous investments in nature restoration without hampering economic growth.”
The final text of the nature restoration law is not yet available, but based on what is already known, Demir sees adjustments compared to the original proposal from the European Commission, “thanks to efforts by Sweden and Flanders within the Council and the European Parliament, among others.” ”. This is a good business”. “The fact that the priority should be on existing legal commitments such as Natura 2000 is something we have always insisted on,” says Demir.
Belgium’s position on formal approval of the law is partly determined by the federal states. How Flanders will act will depend on the new impact analysis that will now be made, says Demir.
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EPP does not promise approval yet
The European People’s Party (EPP) is satisfied with the improvements made in the agreement on the Nature Restoration Act compared to the European Commission’s original proposal, but does not yet promise approval. Before the Environment Committee and subsequently the European Parliament’s plenary session vote on the text, the largest group in the hemisphere wants to study the agreement in detail.
It was the EPP faction that led the opposition to the nature restoration law in the spring. According to critics, this was out of political calculation, but party leader Manfred Weber consistently emphasized that he was concerned about the European agricultural sector and the security of food supplies in particular.
Now that a political agreement has been reached with the Council (the EU member states), EPP MP Christine Schneider, who participated in the negotiations, says she is satisfied with the “positive changes” that have been made and with the fact that “the final text is almost nothing more resembles the Commission’s original proposal’.
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She repeats the criticism that that proposal was motivated by ideology and was “disastrous for farmers, forest owners, fishermen and local and regional authorities, especially in densely populated areas.” The rollout of infrastructure and renewable energy projects in particular was at risk of being compromised, says the German.
Before the European Parliament votes on the agreement, the EPP will study the text carefully, “with the idea that nature restoration and achieving our climate goals go hand in hand with agriculture and forestry.”
Despite these reservations, the EPP sees several improvements to the Commission proposal. For example, there is no longer a requirement to fill at least 10 percent of agricultural land in Europe with ‘landscape elements with a high diversity value’, which, according to Schneider, would have significantly reduced the agricultural area and increased inflation. The fact that the deterioration ban for ecosystems in good condition is linked to an obligation of effort, and not an obligation of result, can also count on her approval.