European Union biodiversity bill may be removed as elections draw closer
The main political grouping in the legislature, the conservative European People's Party (EPP), has rejected the draft Nature Restoration Law, saying it would hurt farmers.
BRUSSELS: The European Parliament will hold a vote Wednesday on a key biodiversity bill that some MEPs say has fallen victim to electioneering.
The main political grouping in the legislature, the conservative European People's Party (EPP), has rejected the draft Nature Restoration Law, saying it would hurt farmers, one of its main constituencies.
The issue has become a potent campaign issue ahead of the European elections to be held in June 2024.
The ballots cast will decide the next European Parliament and influence the make-up and priorities of the next European Commission, currently led by Ursula von der Leyen, who hails from the EPP.
Already a parliamentary commission has failed to agree on a position ahead of Wednesday's vote, meaning the full chamber will have to vote on whether to bin the text entirely.
Leftwing and centrist lawmakers accuse the EPP of using the bill as an election football.
"If it's rejected, it's game over," said Pascal Canfin, the chair of the parliament's environment committee and a member of the centrist Renew grouping.
"What we are seeing now. I would call 'European Trumpism'," he said, referring to former US president Donald Trump's go-it-alone governing style and policies rolling back environmental protections.
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate campaigner, was to protest on Tuesday outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg in favour of the proposed act, as MEPs hold their debate.
Birds, bees and butterflies
A European Commission spokeswoman, Dana Spinant, said on Monday the EU executive, which came up with the draft bill, hoped for a 'good outcome'.
"It would be difficult if not impossible at this stage of the legislature to come up with fresh legislative proposals," she said.
The Nature Restoration Act is a central pillar of the EU's biodiversity strategy.
It is part of the bloc's Green Deal approach to mitigate climate change and boost environmental protections.
The legislation aims to restore degraded ecosystems by boosting forested areas, marine habitats and increasing connectivity between rivers.
It notably seeks to grow populations of bees, birds and butterflies, especially on farmland, which would also be encouraged to host diverse landscapes, including marsh- and peatlands previously drained.
A lead EPP lawmaker on the issue, Peter Liese said the commission's draft law was such a bad proposal that rejecting it was 'the only alternative'.
It sparked serious concerns about food security in Europe, he said, arguing that parts of it seen as blocking hydroelectric plants dependent on river systems -- went against climate targets on renewable energy.
Liese stressed that the EPP had backed many, many other Green Deal laws but we are already on the edge of doing too much.
"The Green Deal, it's a good thing, but we are about to overstretch it," he said.
Another EPP lawmaker, Francois-Xavier Bellamy, said it would be criminal to legislate to reduce farm production.
He said the EPP had triggered a legitimate debate on the issue, and criticism of its stance was caricatural.
Vile political games
Canfin said the very likely outcome would be that the text would be deeply watered down though more than 100 proposed amendments.
His grouping would still vote for a weaker law, he said, because it's always better than nothing.
"Apparently the elections have started, and it's all at the expense of nature," a Dutch MEP with the centre-left Socialists and Democrats grouping, Mohammed Chahim, said.
If the bill did get shot down, he predicted that Europe's farmers would be among the losers, because, at the end of the day, the biggest threat to farming is the biodiversity crisis.
He attributed the EPP's stance to a vendetta by its parliamentary leader, Manfred Weber, against von der Leyen, who was made European Commission president over his own ambition for the job.
Non-governmental organisations lobbying for better environmental protection in the EU expressed exasperation.
Ionnis Agapakis, a nature conservation lawyer at the NGO ClientEarth, said the legislative text was prey to vile political games. But he said that if it was swept aside by parliament, that could "provide a clean slate" which might lead to a stronger law down the road.