by Antonio Nicoletti*

On 12 July, a majority in the European Parliament voted in favour of the Nature Restoration Law (NRL). This law establishes a framework for member states to implement restoration measures, aiming to cover 20 per cent of the EU’s land and marine areas by 2030, and ultimately to restore all ecosystems in need by 2050. While the adopted text is less ambitious than the original proposal, it provides an opportunity to address the root causes, particularly climate change, that are contributing to biodiversity loss. This loss is reflected in the 81% of habitats in poor condition and the decline of one in three bee and butterfly species at European level.

The Nature Restoration Law is the first piece of legislation of its kind to be adopted at EU level. It recognises the essential role of nature restoration in the EU’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, including the prevention of the effects of natural disasters. It therefore calls on EU Member States to commit not only to protecting existing nature but also to restoring and revitalising degraded nature, revitalising both marine and terrestrial ecosystems and habitats, with a focus on those with the highest potential for carbon capture and storage. It also aims to help species in need, enhance urban green spaces and contribute to tackling the climate crisis through nature-based interventions.

In essence, the NRL serves as a measure that reinforces and clarifies the objectives set out in the European Biodiversity Strategy since 2020: the restoration, resilience and adequate protection of all ecosystems by 2050, with EU biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030. This direction was well defined by 2020. However, the scope of the recently adopted regulation is much more limited than expected. Why did the right wing turn the Nature Directive, a key but non-priority issue in EU politics, into a dispute designed to upset Parliament’s balance?

For some time now, the President of the European People’s Party, German Manfred Weber, has been trying to disrupt the majority of the European Commission’s head, Ursula von der Leyen, who is also from Germany. This political strategy involves a combination of conservative and progressive parties, giving him a narrow majority since 2019. This approach has caused Weber, as the head of the European People’s Party, to give up the possibility of replacing von der Leyen as head of the European Commission. This decision also has implications for the next European elections in 2024, where he is currently seeking a new political alliance that excludes progressives, populists and the far right in the majority.

It is no coincidence that the governments that backed Weber most wholeheartedly in this currently failed showdown were those on the right, led by Italy, Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden. More than others, they resent the vice-president of the Commission, the Dutchman Franz Timmemans, and the European Green Deal, of which the Nature Restoration Law is an integral part. In addition, the social coalition of European farmers’ organisations, represented by the umbrella organisations European Farmers – COPA and European Agricultural Co-operatives – COGECA, has also come out against the NRL. They have served as a backdrop for the centre-right parties in this dress rehearsal for the political confrontation ahead of the next European elections.

Farmers have launched an extensive campaign of misinformation against the measure, presenting a list of false claims. The most bizarre of these claims is that the approved regulation will jeopardise European production and food security. The reality is that the measure aims to restore 20% of ecosystems from degradation. Farmers are well aware that since the 1992 Habitats Directive, Europe has been addressing and funding the conservation of natural and semi-natural ecosystems, both on land and at sea. These ecosystems seamlessly integrate agricultural, livestock, forestry, fishing (and even hunting) activities, all of which have been fully supported by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) since 1962.

The Nature Restoration Law has the potential to influence decisions towards more environmentally friendly agricultural and livestock farming practices. It could encourage the adoption of organic farming to reduce the use of pesticides and their environmental impact on both soil and air.It could also promote sustainable forestry practices and support small-scale fishing, while encouraging fishermen to abandon harmful techniques that damage fish stocks. However, it’s important to note that these activities are unlikely to stop, even in the current context where global food production and consumption contribute to around 30% of atmospheric emissions.

As mentioned above, the adopted regulation is characterised by a lack of ambition, leaving unchanged the post-2020 strategies set out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. The NRL is seen by many as inadequate because of the need to strike a political balance and counter misinformation from right-wing parties and pressure from the agricultural and fisheries sectors. Indeed, some see it as too flexible, allowing Member States leeway in its implementation. On the contrary, the lawneeds to be strengthened to create a comprehensive and binding legal framework, moving away from the current voluntary and fragmented approach that has proved ineffective. This step is essential to respond to the numerous calls from citizens, scientists, associations and companies that have expressed their support for the Nature Restoration Law.



* The author is the National Manager for Protected Areas and Biodiversity at Legambiente, Italy’s leading environmental organisation. Legambiente is recognised as the successor to the original ecological groups and the anti-nuclear movement that gained ground in Italy and throughout the western world in the second half of the 1970s.

Cover photo © sarayut_sy/