BRUSSELS — European Union institutions and conservationists on Friday gave a conditional and guarded welcome to a major plan to better protect nature and fight climate change in the 27-nation bloc.
The plan is a key part of the EU’s vaunted European Green Deal that seeks to establish the world’s most ambitious climate and biodiversity targets and make the bloc the global point of reference on all climate issues. Yet it has had an extremely rough ride through the EU’s complicated approval process and only a watered-down version will now proceed to final votes.
Late Thursday’s breakthrough agreement between parliament and EU member states should have normally been the end of the approval process. But given the controversy the plan had previously stirred, the final votes – normally a rubberstamp process – could still throw up some hurdles.
The plan has lost some of its progressive edge during negotiations over the summer because of fierce opposition in the EU’s legislature, particularly from the Christian Democrat EPP, the largest of the political groups.
“The final text on this law has little to do with the original proposal,” said EPP legislator Christine Schneider. The EPP opposition also highlighted the core struggle in Europe over how to deal with climate issues. Despite the succession of droughts, floods and heat waves that have swept through many areas in Europe, the EPP wants to hit the pause button on environmental action and concentrate on economic competitiveness first over the next five years.
Under the plan, member states would have to meet restoration targets for specific habitats and species, with the aim of covering at least 20% of the region’s land and sea areas by 2030. But the negotiations were plagued by quarrels over exemptions and flexibility clauses allowing member states to skirt the rules.
“Negotiators have hollowed out the law to the point that it risks being toothless in practice and prone to abuse,” said Ioannis Agapakis, a lawyer at the ClientEarth conservation group. He said the weakening of provisions “have set a very frightening precedent for EU law-making, rather than cementing the EU at the forefront of biodiversity conservation.”
But the EPP, other conservatives and the far right have insisted the plans would undermine food security, fuel inflation and hurt farmers.
The EU’s main agricultural group, COPA-COGECA, said that despite the concessions in the new plan, “the overall final compromise reverts to a totally unrealistic proposal for farmers and forest-owners.”
The group said that with the plan as it stands, “no MEP can now say that the text proposed for ratification will not have major impacts on our production, our competitiveness, the EU trade balance, or the consumption price for millions of Europeans.”
The EPP’s Schneider still did not give the plan the wholehearted support of her group for the last votes in parliament, leaving the final adoption of the EU plan in doubt.
“The EPP Group will now seriously check the outcome of today’s negotiations,” Schneider said, “keeping in mind that nature restoration and achieving our climate goals go hand-in-hand with agriculture and forestry. Only then we can secure Europe’s food security.”
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