Tensions mount as rival protests clash over EU nature restoration law

Farmers and green groups both turned out in force outside the European Parliament on Thursday (1 June) over the EU’s proposed nature restoration law as tensions continued to mount over the future shape of the EU’s green ambitions. 

The law, proposed in June 2022, aims to reverse the drastic decline of Europe’s nature, where 81% of habitats are in a bad state and 1,677 European species are threatened with extinction.

But the law has been met with major pushback from the farming community and those on the right of the European Parliament, with the agriculture (AGRI) and fisheries (PECH) committees already voting to reject the law outright.

Now, EU farmers have taken to the streets of Brussels with one clear aim in mind: to “make sure the nature restoration law is not approved”.

“It is time we hit the pause button, send it back to the Commission, and truly ask where they see food producers in Europe fitting into the future of nature restoration,” said Lode Ceyssens, president of the Flemish farmers’ association.

For Ceyssens, the law must be “radically amended” to be rational and realistic for the issues farmers face.

Meanwhile, Tim Cullinan, vice-president of the farming half of the EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA, said the farming community has “watched with dismay and confusion” how the law has developed in the European Parliament over the past months.

“It is us who would be first to be impacted by this law, it is us who would have to bear the cost, it is us who would lose parts if not all of our land for the restoration of peatlands. We simply ask that you listen to our farmers and do not ignore our advice,” he said.

The protest comes as negotiations on the file hit a stumbling block on Wednesday (31 May) when the largest group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party, walked out of negotiations ahead of a crucial vote in the environment committee, who leads on the file.

No food without nature

However, the protest was met with a counter-protest from green groups pushing back against the narrative that the law in any way jeopardises food security.

“Without biodiversity and healthy soils, there can be no agriculture and no food security – that should have been clear long ago,” said Leif Miller, federal manager of green group NABU.

Likewise, Greenpeace EU nature campaigner Sini Eräjää stressed that restored nature is the EUs’ “best defence against floods, droughts and heatwaves – essential for the resilience of Europe’s farming and food systems”.

“Two-thirds of the EU’s agricultural soil is already degraded, [and] problems like this are what really threaten to put sustainable farmers out of business or jeopardise food production – exactly why a strong nature restoration law is needed,” she said, accusing those protesting the law of “driv[ing] an artificial culture war between nature protection and sustainable farming.”

Meanwhile, Green MEP Benoît Biteau, a farmer himself, joined those in support of the law, stressing that it “makes no sense” to pit farmers against biodiversity. “Without nature, no agriculture is possible,” he said.

The protests come on the back of a letter signed by more than 150 scientists in support of the nature restoration proposal, in which they argued that restoration improves food security and does not preclude economic activity, with benefits far exceeding the costs.

“If the EU is to restore the health, productivity, and resilience of its lands and seas, and have nature continue supporting European food security, employment, climate change mitigation, and the economy, it must approve and implement its Nature Restoration Law,” the letter said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]


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