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EU Parliament passes nature law despite political backlash

The vote took place after weeks of farmers' protests across Europe, including a violent demonstration on Monday outside the European Union's headquarters in Brussels.
Last Updated 27 February 2024, 13:37 IST

Brussels: The European Parliament approved a flagship law to restore nature on Tuesday, salvaging at least part of EU plans to protect the environment after farmers' protests ignited a backlash.

The vote took place after weeks of farmers' protests across Europe, including a violent demonstration on Monday outside the European Union's headquarters in Brussels. Among the protesters' complaints are EU green policies that they say impose excessive bureaucracy on farmers.

EU lawmakers adopted the law with 329 votes in favour, 275 against and 24 abstentions.

It passed despite the European People's Party lawmaker group deciding at the last minute to oppose the law, arguing it would subject farmers to more red tape.

The nature law is one of the EU's biggest pieces of environmental legislation, requiring countries to introduce measures restoring nature on a fifth of their land and sea by 2030.

EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said that the policy was the EU's "concrete contribution to preserve biodiversity, precious ecosystems, healthy soils and waters - first and foremost, for our farmers".

It aims to reverse the decline of Europe's natural habitats - 81% of which are classed as being in poor health - and includes specific targets, for example to restore peatlands so they can absorb CO2 emissions.

Still, the final policy is far weaker than originally planned.

The nature law has faced fierce political backlash since the European Commission proposed it in 2022. Centre-right lawmakers had attempted to scrap it completely, and eventually won changes to weaken parts including a goal to introduce more trees, ponds and other biodiverse features to farmland.

The policy now needs final approval from EU countries before it enters into force. That approval is usually a simple formality, and it looks set to avoid the fate of other green policies that the EU has scrapped to appease the farmers.

Earlier this month, the European Commission withdrew a proposed law to reduce pesticides and delayed an obligation for farmers to set aside more land to nature.

So far, those moves have failed to quell the farmers' protests. Some protest organisers say green policies are not the problem, and instead want the EU to take action to curb cheap food imports.

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(Published 27 February 2024, 13:37 IST)

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