A key European Parliament committee rejected a nature restoration law on Tuesday in a highly emotional vote that puts the EU's ambitious targets for its flagship Green Deal net zero plans in doubt.
The environment committee’s vote was deadlocked at 44-44 following opposition from the parliament’s largest faction, the conservative European People’s Party.
The faction argued that the bill endangered the livelihoods of farmers and food security – assertions that thousands of scientists have rejected.
This result means the parliament will be asked to reject the overall proposal at its next plenary session on July 10, in a test of the EU’s pledge to make the fight against climate change one of its top priorities.
EU governments had backed the plan last week. A rejection in parliament would entail a full rewriting of the bill at a time when international organisations are calling for extra efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.
The bill is a key part of the EU's vaunted European Green Deal that seeks to set the globe's best climate and biodiversity targets and make the bloc the point of reference on all related issues.
The plans proposed by the EU’s executive commission set binding restoration targets for specific habitats and species, with the aim of covering at least 20 per cent of the region’s land and sea areas by 2030.
Before the vote, Parliament Speaker Cesar Luena, a Spanish Social Democrat, said that the law was necessary due to the steep decline of biodiversity caused by human intrusion and climate change.
Mr Luena said that “90 per cent of our natural habitats are in bad shape” and “one million species are endangered.”
He rejected the EPP’s argument that the law would endanger food security and access to land for farmers. “A lot of lies have been said about this proposal,” he said.
Mr Luena said the law was also good for businesses as it would strengthen ecosystems and resilience to climate change.
He called for a public reaction from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who belongs to the EPP.
“The first law on biodiversity in Europe cannot depend on an internal row in a political party,” said Mr Luena.
“European Trumpism” accusations
Chairman of the environment committee Pascal Canfin said in a press conference that there was now a “clear battle” within the EPP ahead of next year's EU elections, with one side embodied by the fraction's current president Manfred Weber, and the other by Ms von der Leyen.
“It’s up to them to decide on which line they are going to be for the vote and next electoral campaign,” said Mr Canfin, a French politician from the centrist Renew group.
“This text makes it obvious that one part of the EPP is nature-sceptic,” added Mr Canfin.
“What we are seeing now, and it’s quite new, is what I call European Trumpism: anti-green, anti-migrant, anti-feminism.”
He accused the EPP of replacing one third of its committee members with German members of the Christian Democratic Union who opposed the law.
“It was a very clear manipulation of the ENVI vote by Manfred Weber,” he said.
Without these replacements, the law would have received a “clear majority,” according to Mr Canfin.
In a separate press conference, EPP and CDU member Peter Liese rejected Mr Canfin’s accusations and accused him of being the “worst and most partisan chair of the ENVI committee” that he had ever seen in his three decades as an MEP.
He acknowledged there had been substitutions in the vote, but said the group had wanted to be on the “safe side in case something happens,” referring to health and personal issues as examples.
He did not provide further explanations as to why the EPP had more substitutions than other factions.
Mr Liese said that the main reason he had rejected the law is that it obliges EU countries to restore 25,000 kilometres of rivers to the detriment of hydropower.
“This law is bad, it’s contradictory and for some it’s just too much,” said Mr Liese.
He repeatedly attacked Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the European Commission in charge of its Green Deal, who had proposed the law.
Fellow EPP MEP Christine Schneider said that her group had requested an impact assessment for close to a year and had not received it.
Ms Schneider said that scientists who supported the law did not understand farmers' point of view.
“I underline what scientists said, we need insects and bees in the future to ensure our food security,” she said.
“But the second thing we also need is our farmers, and enough areas where our farmers can produce our foodstuff.”
Both she and Mr Liese said they did not want a vote at the July plenary.
“I hope that Timmermans withdraws the proposals so that we don’t have to vote in July or September,” said Ms Schneider.