Fate of EU nature law hangs in the balance at Monday ministerial meeting

Published 18:34 on June 14, 2024  /  Last updated at 18:34 on June 14, 2024  / Emanuela Barbiroglio /  Biodiversity, Climate Talks, EMEA, EU ETS

A long quest for legislation to restore ecosystems across land in Europe may reach the end of the line on Monday when the EU's 27 environment ministers gather in Luxembourg for what could be a decisive meeting, although negotiators are still unsure about how things will play out exactly.

A long quest for legislation to restore ecosystems across land in Europe may reach the end of the line on Monday when the EU’s 27 environment ministers gather in Luxembourg for what could be a decisive meeting, although negotiators are still unsure about how things will play out exactly.

After some hesitations, the Nature Restoration Law (NRL) made it to the Environment Council’s agenda on Friday, with diplomatic sources telling the press it will likely be the first point to be addressed.

For the Belgian EU Council presidency, which ends on June 30, the goal is to get everyone on board to approve a political deal agreed last year with the European Parliament.

Ministers should “exchange views and share opinions with the view to formally adopting the regulation”, the Council’s agenda reads.

If the NRL doesn’t pass on Monday, its fate will be in the hands of the Hungarian EU presidency, which takes over from Belgium for the following six months, and may decide to reopen the file.

The text agreed with Parliament obliges EU member states to restore at least 30% of habitat types covered in the bill by 2030, prioritising protected sites under the existing Natura 2000 network.

Since last year, however, some EU countries have changed their position on the file, reflecting growing scepticism about parts of the European Green Deal related to agriculture following opposition from farmers against the law.

At this stage, we have no qualified majority,” an EU source said when asked about expectations for Monday’s discussions.

“A number of countries are clearly against, a number of countries are in abstention, but the idea for now is to keep a possibility for exchange of views between ministers.”

“It was a sensitive topic before the European elections,” they added, referring to a long-lasting debate among parties about the nature bill.

“It remains a symbolic file after the elections, and it’s now an opportunity for us to see where we stand collectively as a Council, in a situation where the legislature is changing.”

The main opponents to the law remain Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Finland, and Sweden. Hungary was one of the first to withdrww its support, making the law lose its qualified majority.

Slovakia’s Environment minister Tomaa Taraba told Politico that “his country isn’t a big fan of the bill and could decide not to support it”.

Austria and Belgium are set to abstain.

Ministers from Czechia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Spain previously sent a letter to their counterparts seeking to save the law.


Support from NGOs and civil society has been constant, with a recent poll revealing that 75% of Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, and Swedish citizens support the law.

Only 6% of those surveyed disagreed that the law should be adopted.

A few months earlier, similar surveys were conducted in Austria and Belgium, finding that 77% of the Austrian population wants nature to be consistently protected and restored, while more than 84% of Belgians believe that their governments should do more to restore ecosystems in poor condition.

“Citizens have spoken and want to see nature restored and thriving in their countries,” declared the #RestoreNature coalition, consisting of green groups BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, EEB, and WWF EU.

“But several governments remain short-sighted, blatantly ignore their constituents, and block the most significant piece of nature legislation in the EU since the 1990s, despite making numerous compromises to accommodate their concerns,” they stated.

“Meanwhile, Europe is witnessing more devastating floods spreading in southern Germany and parts of Austria. Adopting the law and investing in nature restoration is the solution to protect citizens and prevent further extreme weather-related disasters.”


  • June 22, 2022 – European Commission tables a proposal for a regulation on nature restoration, under the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and as part of the Green Deal.
  • July 2022 – In the European Parliament, the file is referred to the committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), which appoints Spanish MEP Cesar Luena (S&D) as main rapporteur.
  • May 2023 – Trouble begins when both associated committees on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) and on Fisheries (PECH) reject the Commission’s proposal. Lawmakers start complaining about a ‘regulatory fatigue’ as work proceeds on green policies. Supporters of the bill fight against misinformation, in an attempt to make it pass.
  • June 2023 – The ENVI committee votes on amendments to the proposed text, first without getting to a majority, then without accepting the revised version of the text. This means ENVI’s members are bound to table to the Parliament’s plenary a proposal to reject the Commission’s text. In parallel, the Council of member states agrees its own general approach on the file.
  • July 2023 – After a scramble for compromise, the proposal for a rejection does not pass in plenary, and a position similar to the Council’s general approach including a significant number of amendments is adopted instead. It’s a narrow win.
  • Oct. 2023 – Negotiations between the three institutional bodies slowly begin.
  • Nov. 2023 – The co-legislators strike a provisional deal, approved by EU member states’ ambassadors (Coreper), and by ENVI, although quite distant from the original text. Meanwhile, another text to reduce the use of pesticides is shot down by Parliament, replicating some of the controversies seen on NRL.
  • Feb. 2024 – The Parliament’s plenary formally adopts the deal struck with the Council.
  • Now – Without a clear majority nor a drastic decision to kill the bill, the Council has been unable to validate the agreement or just undo the file.

By Emanuela Barbiroglio – emanuela@carbon-pulse.com