What, exactly, happened?
The Nature Restoration Law (NRL) continues its perilous path towards enactment, surviving the first major hurdle at the Environment Committee in the European Parliament on the morning of today, Thursday 15th June.
There, in a packed and tense room, an amendment led by the right wing EPP (European People’s Party) to reject it outright was tied 44-44. Under the rules, this means that the rejection amendment was itself rejected, and the morning’s work of voting on amendments could continue.
Voting continued to be extremely tight and tense. A minority of compromise amendments were rejected, but most were adopted. These were amendments as agreed by the other main groups – Greens, Left S&D and Renew – on the day the EPP walked out of the negotiations. Most compromise amendments were carried, including compromise amendment 21 on new finance for the NRL via the multiannual financial framework, the European Investment Bank and private equity. This was carried by a single vote, 44-43 with one abstention.
Many of those rejected lost in a 44-44 tie – under the rules, a tie within the voting leads to automatic rejection. The Forestry compromise amendment (9) was lost 44-43, while marine ecosystems (4) was carried. Most governance compromises were carried. Compromise amendment 8 was rejected 44-44, which would have allowed for burden-sharing to be increased from 20 to 40% for rewetting, to sectors outside of farming and peat extraction.
EPP and further-to-the-right groups such as ID and ECR voted as a block in many cases to reach this 44 threshold, for amendments and the larger packages of compromise amendments. EPP operated a hard whip, which means that, in reality, the group voted against rewetting burden-sharing and against finding finance for the NRL.
11, 13, 18, 4, 6, 7, 10, 21, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29
1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 17, 2
There was not time, despite an extension and a mammoth 4 hour session, to complete the vote, with 25 of the 240+ pages still to be completed. The vote is scheduled to start again on the 27th June. Should it be completed by then, there will be a final vote on the NRL with the accepted amendments.
It is unclear yet how this final vote will transpire. It may again be 44-44. if that happens, unlike the rejection amendment which opened the vote on the 15th, the NRL with amendments fails. Were this to happen, this is what would be presented to full plenary – a rejected NRL with amendments. However this can then be voted on and amended in any case.
If the NRL final vote is passed at ENVI on 27th, the version MEPs will vote on at plenary will be somewhat less ambitious environmentally, while also containing for e.g. the above mentioned compromise amendments that passed, such as number 21 on finance. This could persuade wavering MEPs from Renew, independents, wavering S&D and even some EPP MEPs, some of whom have expressed disquiet at their group walking away from talks.
In general though, plenary tends to be more conservative than ENVI, though it remains to be seen if EPP can whip its MEPs into line as strictly as it did on 15th. Potential threats to retain voters who diverge from the group position include loss of speaking time, loss of access to rapporteur files, being kicked out of the group, and similar. MEPs intending to run in 2024 would be especially cognisant of this, those not running less so.
Unaligned MEPs and the liberal (Renew) group of MEPs will again be pivotal, as the other main groups already have more established positions. Plenary will be on week on 11-14th July.
The build up to this week’s voting session in ENVI saw interest and opinions on the NRL rachet up to a point rarely seen for EU legislation.
Over 3300 scientists signed and issued this letter, a myth-busting letter backing the NRL and the concurrent pesticide regulation, the SUR. Many in the business community – over 100 major multi nationals came out in favour including Unilever, IKEA and Nestle in group statements. Meanwhile the EPP and Copa COGECA positions have hardened, including via a non-legislative resolution on food security in Parliamentary Plenary held Wednesday 14th, which paid little attention to climate and biodiversity, and focused instead on a business-as-usual narrative of efficiency, technology and rolling back environmental legislation.
In the middle of all of this the Commission issued an explanatory letter to MEPs and National government to reassure all concerned – the Non paper on the NRL.
Meanwhile, the Councill of Ministers meets on 20th to finalise its position, following rumours that the NRL was to be bumped off the agenda altogether by the Swedish presidency. This risk saw a letter from four national ministers to warm against the exclusion of the NRL from the meeting on the 20th.
With this level of interest and excitement though, who’d want to miss out on some Nature Restoration Action?