Belgian and European farmers' unions campaign against nature restoration law

Around 100 protesters from Belgium's Farmers Union (Boerenbond) and Copa-Cogeca, the largest advocacy and lobby group for European farmers, protested against the European Commission's Nature Restoration Law in Brussels on Thursday morning.

The demonstration at Place Luxembourg brought together farmers, farming organisations and several MEPs, including Tom Vandekendelaere (CD&V) and Hilde Vautmans (Open VLD). According to some, the European Nature Restoration Act, a regulation meant to preserve biodiversity in Europe, takes overly drastic measures.

The legislation has caused controversy in recent months. Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo's (Open VLD) proposal to "hit the pause button" on the Act was followed by calls for the law to be tweaked by Flemish Environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA). Both supporters and opponents have been vocal about the proposal, on which Council committees and the European Parliament are due to give their opinions this month.

Economic impact

"The nature restoration law is a law that wants to impose additional objectives for nature in Europe. We are not opposed to that," said Lode Ceyssens, president of the Boerenbond, which represents farmers in Flanders and East Belgium. "Yet the law in its current capacity will negatively impact agriculture in Flanders and the rest of Europe. This European Commission has not had the courage to analyse the economic impact of this law on agriculture."

The Commission proposed its nature restoration law in June 2022. It aims to ensure that at least 20 per cent of all land and sea areas in the EU are restored nature areas by 2030. The European Parliament wants at least 30 per cent of surfaces to be protected.

"In the 20 per cent scenario, a quarter of our Flemish farmland will be affected; in the 30 per cent scenario, it would be half"

"In Flanders, we made a cost analysis on these Commission and European Parliament proposals," Ceyssens said. "In the 20 per cent scenario, a quarter of our Flemish farmland will be affected; in the 30 per cent scenario, it would be half of Flemish farmland." He believes the proposal "should go back to the drawing board because the consequences will be catastrophic".

'We want to work with farmers'

WWF and Natuurpunt disagree. In a press release, the organisations say the Boerenbond and fellow organisations are misinterpreting the figures. "The recent statements cited about the impact of the Nature Restoration Act on Flemish agriculture are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Nature Restoration Act and incorrect assumptions," they say.

Near the farmers' demonstration, some 50 supporters of the proposal held a counter-protest to send a signal and "have a conversation with the farming organisations", said Sofie Ruysschaert of Birdlife Europe. "We want to work with farmers, not against them."




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