The European Commission is closely following the legislative discussions around the Nature Restoration Law.
First proposed in June 2022, the law seeks to tackle the biodiversity crisis by introducing legally-binding targets to rehabilitate the European Union’s degraded areas, like peatlands and sea bottoms, and bring back animal species in decline.
While the text has been well received by NGOs and the private sector, it has attracted extreme criticism from conservative parties, who believe the legislation would endanger the livelihoods of farmers, disrupt supply chains and increase food prices.
The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest formation in the European Parliament, is at the driving seat of the relentless opposition campaign against the law, spreading claims that NGOs have decried as “misinformation.”
The EPP’s effort paid off on Tuesday when the parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) rejected an amended version of the Nature Restoration Law by an impossibly razor-thin margin of 44 votes in favour and 44 against.
It marked the first time ENVI dismissed an element of the European Green Deal.
The motion to reject will be sent to next month’s plenary. If the 705-member hemicycle follows the committee’s advice, the law will be effectively dead.
But MEPs should not be under the illusion that a second re-branded proposal will arrive in their inboxes any time soon, Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s executive vice-president, has warned.
“We are open to debate. We are willing to discuss all the elements of the proposal. But we will not come up with a new proposal if this one is rejected,” Timmermans said on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve been very clear about that in Parliament several times.”
The Green Deal chief urged MEPs to follow the example set by the other co-legislator, the EU Council, which last week agreed on a common position despite strong differences of opinion among member states.
“Tell us what you don’t like and we’ll negotiate,” Timmermans said.
“But the biggest political group in the European Parliament didn’t even want to negotiate – just want (the law) to be rejected as such,” he added, referring to the EPP’s radical move to pull out of official talks.
“If we can go back to the content of the proposal, then I am sure we can find a way through that could accommodate the wishes of the three institutions. But for that, we need to have a discussion about the content. For now, the only thing I can do is wait for Parliament to decide.”
Timmermans, an outspoken politician affiliated with the socialist party, has become the major villain in the EPP’s opposition push against the Nature Restoration Law.
In a no-holds-barred press conference held on Tuesday after the ENVI session, MEPs Christine Schneider and Peter Liese bluntly accused Timmermans of putting “pressure” on lawmakers ahead of the crucial vote and asked him to withdraw the text before the next plenary, expected to take place in the week of 10 July.
“The reason why we left the negotiation desk was because of the behaviour of Vice-President Frans Timmermans,” Schneider said.
“He took different members in his office and threatened them. And he said very clearly: ‘If you don’t support (the law), you won’t get this, this and this.’
“This behaviour from Frans Timmermans is not acceptable.”
Schneider did not elaborate further on her explosive claims, which Timmermans’s office has refuted.
Notably, the EPP’s scathing campaign has spared Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, who is affiliated with the conservatives.
“It’s very obvious that Timmermans drafted this law and Timmermans is the one who did the threats. Ursula von der Leyen didn’t do so. So there’s a big difference,” Liese said when asked about this omission.
On Wednesday, Timmermans fired back and said his stance on the contentious legislation was firmly aligned with that of von der Leyen.
“When I take a position on this issue, I take a position on behalf of the whole College of Commissioners, including its president,” the Dutchman said.
“President von der Leyen has been very supportive in all this process. So if I speak, I also speak on her behalf and under her control.”
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