EU Environment ministers reach agreement on nature restoration law

European environment ministers have agreed on a proposal for the divisive nature restoration law, Swedish Climate minister Romina Pourmokhtari announced on Tuesday. The Environment Council will defend its proposed general approach in negotiations with the European Parliament.

The Council met on Tuesday to consider a new Swedish proposal for the hotly debated law, which aims to restore Europe's biodiversity and ecosystems and protect nature from climate change.

The agreement on the Council's negotiating mandate was not unanimous, but more than 55 per cent of member states supported the proposed text, representing more than 65 per cent of the European population.

Divided Parliament

Member states still have to negotiate with the European Parliament on the legislation. Last week's vote in the Environment Committee showed the Parliament is deeply divided on the issue.

Several member states - including Belgium - have fiercely opposed the law, arguing that it will have far-reaching consequences in densely populated and industrialised regions. The law particularly rattled political nerves in Belgium after prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) suggested hitting the pause button.

Belgium abstains

Negotiations between Belgium's federal and regional governments continued until Monday but did not lead to a unified Belgian position. Flemish Environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA), representing Belgium in the Council, was forced to abstain on Tuesday.

Demir had been a vocal critic of the law but changed her position last week after Sweden introduced several changes to the proposal. "I hope many member states will get behind the Swedish proposal because it really is a step in the right direction. Otherwise, we are back to square one," she said ahead of the Council meeting.

The Swedish proposal gives member states more responsibility for deciding which nature areas to restore and how, and makes clear that countries will not be judged individually on how much nature they restore. These changes make the plans more palatable to densely populated countries like Belgium.



Sweden's minister for Climate and the Environment Romina Pourmokhtari after an informal meeting of EU environment ministers on 19 April 2023 © JONAS EKSTROMER / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP


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