Over 1 million signatures and messages have been raised in support of the Nature Restoration Law

Today’s blog is written by Fiona Dobson reporting on the outcomes of the European Parliament vote on the potentially game-changing EU Nature Restoration Law.

Last Wednesday, we held our breath as the big moment finally arrived: the plenary vote in the European Parliament on the EU Nature Restoration Law. Here we unpack the rollercoaster of results!

The EU Nature Restoration Law has sent shock waves through European politics. Far more than expected, debate over the law has dominated the media, exposed divides across the EU’s political parties, and activated the voices of thousands of citizens. Last week was crunch time – in the Parliament’s plenary session on Wednesday, all Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) had to cast their votes to form the Parliament’s ‘position’ on the law. The result? A bittersweet victory.

We’ve discussed this potentially game-changing law in past blogs, but to remind you, it proposes to set legally binding targets to place Europe’s degraded habitats on a path to recovery. This includes targets for a wide range of actions, from reviving forests and rivers to restoring and sustainably managing agricultural ecosystems. The proposal for the law has been passing through the EU legislative process over the past months. The European Commission originally drafted the text (back in June 2022), the Council agreed their position last month, and last week it was up to the European Parliament to form theirs.

Tensions running high

The weeks and days preceding the vote were tense. The day before saw a mobilisations outside parliament, with the #RestoreNature campaign and our BirdLife Europe colleagues calling for an ambitious law (with Greta Thunberg and santa in their midst) while the big European farm lobby – COPA-COGECA – were calling to the law to be scrapped. The law is a key pillar of the EU Green Deal, and yet has been targeted by those wishing to maintain the status quo and block the green agenda. You can find out more about those for and against the law here and read an opinion piece from BirdLife’s Ariel Brunner here.

A bittersweet victory

Last Wednesday’s bittersweet victory materialised across a series of votes. The first vote was a little mind-bending: it was a vote on rejecting the law (as the parliamentary committees assigned to reviewing it hadn’t been able to come up with agreed positions). The result: a rejection of the rejection! That meant the law wasn’t scrapped. What a relief!

Cesar Luena – the lead rapporteur on the file – celebrates the law passing through Parliament

But from the high of that initial victory, some major blows followed. MEPs voted on a series of amendments to the law – meaning text changes that could radically alter its content. Heartbreakingly, they voted to completely remove the section on restoration of agricultural lands, which includes peatland restoration, and other targets that would have made it a truly transformational piece of legislation. Several other damaging amendments went through, including on delaying the timeline and removing the fundamental right of access to justice. We watched as the law was stripped of ambition right before our eyes.

And lastly, the final vote on the amended text passed – with 336 votes for and 300 against – meaning that the law can now pass on to the final stage of negotiations.

Greta Thunberg herself struggled to celebrate. She’s quoted in Politico saying “I think this is a bittersweet victory... It’s absurd that we have to fight for the bare minimum. Of course it’s positive that the law went through but it’s so weakened now.”

Is there hope?

Thankfully, this isn’t the last stage of the journey for the Nature Restoration Law. The last stop is what’s known as ‘Trilogues’ where key representatives from the European Commission, Council and Parliament come together to hash out the final text. The Trilogues present a final chance to agree a more ambitious piece of legislation which can genuinely deliver for people, nature and climate. The Spanish presidency of the Council have signalled that it wants to conclude negotiations before the end of the year – so these crucial discussions will start soon.

Sofie Ruysschaert of BirdLife Europe

Hope also brims from the amazing mobilisation of people that have come together to support the law, driven in large part by our inspiring colleagues at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia. Over 1 million signatures and messages from citizens called for a strong Nature Restoration law. Science prevailed over the fake news with 6,000 scientists signing an open letter to counter key arguments against the law. A diversity of sectors have also aligned in support of the law, from organic farmers, to big business, to the wind and solar power sectors, to hunters. For groups that often have their differences, coming together over nature has shown just how important this law is.

We all need nature

The fight for this law has shown there is growing recognition that nature’s recovery is fundamental for all. But at the same time, it’s clear that the powers that want to maintain the status quo are increasingly digging their heels in. This isn’t an issue confined to the EU; we’re facing similar challenges across the UK where action for nature is slowed by a reluctance to take transformative action.

But last week’s votes, which were a “modest victory for hope over fear” (in the words of Sofie Ruysschaert of BirdLife Europe) show that the voices of those who want to see a brighter future can win.

Now we must raise our voices even louder!

You can join people across the world calling for ambition in the crucial final stages of negotiations on the EU Nature Restoration Law. Add your name to the petition here: Avaaz - Restore Nature Now.

Further resources

You can check out BirdLife’s press release from Wednesday’s votes here: Weber fails to derail EU Green Deal, but Parliament agrees to a weakened Nature Restoration Law - BirdLife International.

The #RestoreNature campaign website has a wealth of information which you can explore to find out more.