The European Union has continuously been at the center of global attempts to reduce carbon emissions and limit the consequences of climate change. Even as progress within the Union varies widely, Brussels set ambitious goals for its member states. In May 2020, the Commission published its new biodiversity strategy for 2030. The latter belongs to a more significant attempt from European Institutions to decrease their member states' carbon footprint to 55% below 1997 data and to reach net carbon neutrality. Even though it may all sound challenging to realize, there is no doubt that Brussels is moving forward with cutting its impact on world carbon emissions. During this session of the European Parliament, the EU Nature Restoration Law might receive final approval and join the Green Deal at the forefront of European climate policy. Despite the efforts, political games have made its passage through the Parliament a pure coin flip.
Inspired by the successful experiences of member states in restoring lost or damaged environments and biodiversity, the Nature Restoration Law represents a crucial step for the EU. As the chief of the Green Deal action plan, Frans Timmermans (S&D - center left), said on Monday, "All the other proposals hinge on the adoption of the nature restoration law [...] it will be almost impossible to reach the EU's climate goals without [this legislation]." The commissioner is indeed correct: the EU's goals for carbon neutrality are already extraordinarily ambitious, and if no steps are taken toward further restoring environments and protecting biodiversity, it will be hard to achieve them all.
At the same time, it is difficult to imagine how this proposal won't affect the EU economy negatively. The S&D rapporteur for the NRL has set at 30% the share of marine areas to be designed for nature and biodiversity restoration by 2050. This target will severely affect the fishing industry, especially in the Mediterranean, and could eventually impact the tourism sector with higher costs. As the legislation hinges on a few swing votes, statements from ideologues within the Parliament are undermining the success of the NRL. The target mentioned above was increased from 20% to 30% due to pressure from the left of the group of European Socialists and Democrats. The opposition claims that "Europe risks losing 25% of its seafood production despite the fact that the fisheries sector has made significant progress in the last 20 years in protecting the marine environment and rebuilding fish stocks (almost 100% of the catch from EU-managed stocks in the Northeast Atlantic is already sustainable; greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 50% since the 1990s; 28% of the fishing fleet has already disappeared)."
This is one of many critical issues with the Nature Restoration Law, which was supposed to simplify an already complicated bureaucratic framework. On the contrary, the NRL left the Environmental Committee not as a simplifying reform but as a list of additional regulations. Moreover, the legislation was drafted before the Russian Invasion of Ukraine and has so far yet to account for its consequences on the economy and energy market of the EU. The impact that NRL would have comes at a time when the EU economy is still frail due to high inflation and interest rates.
Because of all this, the largest group within the European Parliament (EPP - center right) has recently withdrawn from negotiations and pledged to oppose the bill on the floor. While it is true that it would be hard to reach European climate goals without this legislation, passing a bill as poor as this one is not worth it. The bill presents many blind spots and includes remarkably ideological provisions.
The problem lies with the interpretation of the climate goals themselves. No one doubts the importance of cutting emissions and reducing Europe's carbon footprint, but different groups have different opinions on what we should do to achieve this. The mainstream position of the European left wants the Union to move toward a fully renewable-powered energy mix, no matter the cost. They also oppose nuclear energy and believe the market must be heavily regulated to fight climate change.
On the other hand, the European People's Party has some reservations about the economic costs that such proposals would impose on the member states and has been the moderator of many climate legislations. As the EPP itself claims: "Of the 32 Green Deal laws voted in plenary, the EPP has so far supported 31. (The EPP only voted against the ban of combustion engine cars)." In all of them, the EPP, the only group from the right to have supported the effort, shielded the legislation from attempts to polarize the issue and inadvertently damage the economy.
As the European Elections are approaching, reaching a last-minute deal on the Nature Restoration Law seems almost impossible. S&D fears losing importance to the Greens and the Left, meaning they will push for harsher environmental regulations to appease voters. The EPP, on the other hand, does not want to put another weight on the shoulders of an already troubled EU economy. They are also trying to stop the hemorrhagy of votes to groups like ECR and ID and must therefore oppose further measures. The approval of the Nature Restoration Law is not likely, but a split vote within the EPP (perhaps along national lines) might represent a final chance. No matter the result, European parties and institutions must brace for the impact.