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EU nations divided over nature law

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-27 09:34


The European Union's proposed law on nature restoration faces uncertainty after Hungary unexpectedly withdrew its support ahead of a key vote to pass it.

After two years of development, the law, which is aimed at undoing long-standing harm to wildlife on land and in waterways, was set to be approved by environment ministers gathered in Brussels on Monday.

The proposed law stands as one of the EU's most significant environmental initiatives, mandating countries to implement measures to rehabilitate nature on one-fifth of their land and sea by 2030.

However, the policy has encountered opposition from governments and lawmakers concerned about its potential to impose burdensome regulations on farmers and create confl icts with other industries.

After Hungary said it would no longer back the proposed law, and with several other nations unhappy with the legislation, ministers are grappling with their next course of action, reported Reuters news service.

The other countries that oppose the law are Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden, while Austria, Belgium, Finland, and Poland plan to abstain from any future vote.

A shift in position from any of these eight countries could tip the scales for the law's passage. The other EU member states are in favor of the policy.

It is highly uncommon to abandon a policy at this advanced stage of EU legislation, said Reuters.

The European environment commissioner cautioned that indefinitely deferring the bill would tarnish the EU's global reputation, especially since the bloc had taken a leading role at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal in 2022, reported The Guardian newspaper.

"We risk going to COP16 absolutely empty handed," said Virginijus Sinkevicius.

He added it would raise "serious questions and concerns as to the consistency and stability of the EU decision-making process".

"We are fooling ourselves if we pretend that we can win our fight against climate change without nature," Sinkevicius added.

The pushback against the EU's nature law coincides with widespread farmers' protests against strict green regulations that have compelled policymakers to reassess environmental policies and to relax regulations.

Hungary's Environment Minister Aniko Raisz said the country's concerns over the nature law included the costs.

"The agricultural sector is a very important sector, not only in Hungary, but everywhere in Europe," said Raisz.

Belgium's Environment Minister Alain Maron, who was leading Monday's discussions, said negotiations would continue.

"We don't know exactly what are some reasons to be against this law for certain countries ... it's possible that they change their mind," he told journalists.

The Netherlands' Climate Minister Rob Jetten said European Parliament elections in June meant ongoing negotiations would be challenging.

He said: "It is clear to everyone that there is this huge deadlock. And it is not going to be easy to get out of this, considering the upcoming elections."

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