In a non-paper sent to representatives of the European Parliament and national ministers, EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius provides negotiators with arguments to defend the planned Nature Restoration law against calls to scrap it.

The draft regulation, proposed by the Commission in 2022 with the aim of restoring a large part of the EU’s natural ecosystems through legally binding targets, is currently being discussed by the Parliament and the Council of national ministers.

But the proposal risks being derailed due to major resistance led by the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which has publicly rejected the law claiming it would endanger food security in the continent.

Against this backdrop, Sinkevičius’ non-paper aims to “contribute to a good discussion and help us move forward on this important initiative, which is crucial for completing the European Green Deal,” according to an email seen by EURACTIV, in which the commissioner’s number two, Director General Florika Hooijer, sent out the document on his behalf.

The document was sent to the parliament’s chief negotiator for the law, César Luena, the chair of the Parliament’s environment committee, Pascal Canfin, and Tjorbörn Haak, the deputy permanent representative of Sweden, which currently holds the rotating EU Council presidency, on Thursday (8 June).

“Indispensable” for climate adaptation

In the document, the commissioner sets out a range of arguments for why the proposal is important, as well as potential compromise amendments.

Nature restoration is “a conditio sine qua non for climate adaptation,” as well as “essential for enhancing the productivity and resilience of forest and agricultural land,” the text reads.

The non-paper also rejects the criticism that the Nature Restoration law takes away from the EU’s food security, which the EPP has repeatedly made.

“Climate change and biodiversity loss are the biggest threats to our food security,” it stresses, adding the Commission will “soon also make available additional information and data, particularly on the link between nature restoration, food security and the resilience of food production.”

It also highlights that restoration measures and economic activity, such as farming on the affected land, are not mutually exclusive but can go hand in hand.

This point, too, refers to arguments the EPP and other critics had made. “We need our farmers, and our farmers need the land to produce our foodstuff,” German EPP lawmaker Christine Lange, told a press conference on Wednesday.

However, Sinkevičius acknowledged that since the law was proposed in June last year, “several key developments have taken place.”

While the document does not clarify which developments, Russia’s war on Ukraine and its impact on food security have been regularly discussed.

Flexibility on peatlands

Against this backdrop, the Commissioner suggests potential tweaks to the EU executive’s proposal that lawmakers could make to find common ground on key contentious issues.

Among other things, the Commission “is ready to consider further flexibility” regarding the rewetting of dried peatlands – a key but heavily contested element of the proposal.

While peatlands are powerful carbon sinks and help boost biodiversity, many dried peatlands are currently used agriculturally, and rewetting them would mean less or no farming is possible.

The non-paper suggests that a compromise could be found, for example “by increasing the share of drained peatlands that can be rewetted on land that is not under agricultural use.”

A similar step is also part of the compromise deal reached last week by the political parties in the European Parliament. The compromise amendments, seen by EURACTIV, also foresee greater flexibility on rewetting non-agricultural peatlands rather than farmland.

The Commission also “fully recognises the importance of involving farmers and landowners and making rewetting economically attractive for them.”

Both member states and Parliament members have called for additional funding to be dedicated to the financial compensation of farmers and foresters affected by restoration measures.

Council, Parliament votes ahead

In the non-paper, however, Sinkevičius only points to funding sources already available through existing instruments such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Technically, once the Commission proposes a law, the EU executive no longer has a role in the legislative process, as only Parliament and Council have to agree on a text. But the Commission often tries to influence negotiations by acting as a broker of compromises.

Negotiations between the three institutions on the law, the so-called trilogue, could start soon after the Parliament and Council adopt their negotiating positions.

After the compromise in the Parliament, a vote in the leading environment committee is scheduled on 15 June and a plenary vote in July. National ministers, meanwhile, aim to adopt their position at a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg on 20 June.

Kira Taylor contributed to the reporting.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

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