Estonian MEPs split on EU's nature restoration law

"The entire process relapsed into a show of strength between Manfred Weber (an influential EPP member) and Frans Timmermans (Commission's executive vice president in charge of the European Green Deal)," Center Party MEP Yana Toom commented. Source: Karits

In Wednesday's vote on the nature restoration regulation, Reform Party MEPs Andrus Ansip and Urmas Paet and Social Democrat Sven Mikser voted in favor, while Jaak Madison (EKRE) and Riho Terras (Isamaa) voted against the regulation and Yana Toom (Center) abstained.

The European Parliament first voted on a proposal to reject the European Commission's proposed regulation in its entirety. This motion was supported by Terras and Madison, opposed by Ansip, Paet and Mikser, and Toom abstained.

In the subsequent vote to approve the European Parliament's negotiating position on the regulation, Ansip, Paet and Mikser voted in favor, while Terras and Madison voted against it and Toom, again, abstained.

In a fairly even vote, 336 MEPs voted in favor to adopt the position for negotiations with Council, while 300 voted against it, and 13 abstained. 312 MEPs supported the proposal to refuse the Commission's entire legislative proposal, 324 voted against it and 12 abstained.

Although the results of the vote were not entirely along the lines of the political groups in the European Parliament, the majority of social democrats (Mikser) and liberals (Ansip, Paet) were in favor of going ahead with the regulation, while most members of the European People's Party (Terras) and the Identity and Democracy Group (Madison) were against.

Social Democrat Marina Kaljurand, who was unable to attend the Strasbourg plenary session due to a recent operation, told ERR that she would have voted in favor of advancing the regulation and affirming the position of the European Parliament.

"Unfortunately, the EP is not prepared to change the rules to allow online voting at this time," she said.

The Regulation provides for measures to restore the environment

One of the pillars of the European Commission's initiative is the first-ever inter-governmental global assessment on biodiversity prepared by 150 leading experts from 50 countries, with backgrounds in natural and social sciences, and the support of other 250 experts collaborating with it.

The report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) states that the extinction of species is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, which poses grave consequences for people around the world. The report indicates that it is not too late to conserve and restore nature if action is taken promptly.

The European Commission defended the proposed regulation by stating that 80 percent of Europe's natural environment is in poor shape and that the new regulation, which will support the protection and restoration of biodiversity, landscapes, and sea areas, will be of great economic benefit to the EU, with every euro invested returning eight euros to the continent. It would also aid in enhancing the availability of food.

The nature restoration regulation sets guidelines for the restoration of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Restoration of ecosystems seeks to mitigate climate change and stop soil degradation.

The regulation provides a framework for member states to establish effective, baseline-based restoration measures with the goal of collectively covering at least one-fifth of terrestrial and marine areas by 2030 and all ecosystems requiring restoration by 2050.

Under the current framework, the EU will allocate about €100 billion for biodiversity-related expenditures, including restoration, in order to meet these goals.

Prior to the regulation's implementation, the commission must provide data on its impact on long-term food security, and member states must determine the total area of each ecosystem on their respective territories that will be affected by the restoration objectives.

The confirmed position of the European Parliament is that the regulation should not contribute to the expansion of protected areas, and that measures can be suspended if they have exceptional socioeconomic effects.

Paet, Ansip, Mikser voted in favour

Paet, who supported the implementation of the regulation, told ERR that with more than 80 percent of Europe's natural environment in a state of deterioration, the time has come to take action.

"On the basis of generally accepted scientific knowledge and recommendations, the nature recovery law seeks to restore Europe's ecosystems. Farmers and fishermen would both benefit from the proposal, and by restoring the natural environment, we would assure that future generations have a place to live," Paet said.

Urmas Paet. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Ansip, who also supported the initiative, said that while the regulation does not directly address the issue of increasing protected areas or reducing pesticide use in agricultural production, it is clear that the objectives of increasing biodiversity, including the goal of increasing pollinator abundance, will not succeed alone in halting biodiversity loss in Europe without appropriate conservation measures.

"Many of the regulation's provisions have been implemented in Estonia for decades. We have decided that peat will only be collected from places that have previously been used for this purpose, with no further peatlands included. In Estonia, we have also restored the peatlands. For some years now, Estonia has been removing river weirs, ensuring that fish have access to suitable spawning sites," Ansip told ERR in a written comment.

According to him, Estonia has one of the lowest pesticide use rates in the European Union. "In comparison to countries with intense land usage, Estonia's natural environment is relatively well conserved. It goes without saying that in countries with heavy land usage, biodiversity conservation measures must be far more extensive than in Estonia, which, realistically speaking, could imply a rise in the relative competitiveness of Estonian farmers in the European single market," Ansip said.

Andrus Ansip. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

"I understand the concerns of farmers, foresters and fishermen in countries with intensive land use, and I also understand the concerns of the entire world regarding the loss of biodiversity, which is why I supported the Nature Restoration Regulation. Neither the discussions in the European Parliament nor the outcome of the vote satisfy me. Unfortunately, the debates did not result in a wider consensus. In a vote marred by partisanship, a small majority could decide on an insufficient number of issues only. Wider European Parliament consensus would have unquestionably benefited the plan's objectives."

By Thursday afternoon, ERR was unable to obtain feedback from Mikser.

Against voters Terras and Madison

Terras, a substitute member of the European Parliament's agriculture and rural affairs committee who opposed the initiative, said the environment must be preserved, but that the proposed regulation would impair food security and the economy, as well as increase bureaucracy.

"In general, the regulation will drastically reduce the amount of land available for agriculture. This will result in the loss of employment for a large number of people in the agriculture and forestry sectors, thereby reducing production and threatening the food security of the European Union," Terras said in a written comment.

Riho Terras. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

He also mentioned the increase in food prices that has already taken place and added that the loss of agricultural land in Europe will increase Europe's reliance on other nations.

According to Terras, Estonia is directly affected by restrictions on peat extraction and use.

Terras additionally highlighted that the Group of the European People's Party (EPP), of which Isamaa from Estonia is a member, was able to vote on a number of proposals that mitigate the impact of the regulation into the negotiating position of the European Parliament.

"For instance, I voted for the 'emergency brake' clause, according to which the implementation of the regulation must be suspended if EU member states are hit by exceptional socio-economic circumstances, such as an increase of 10 percent or more in the average price of food over a one-year period or a decline of five percent or more in EU food production," Terras said.

"Climate targets are not an issue in and of themselves, but must be established based on science and taking socioeconomic impacts into consideration," Terras concluded.

Jaak Madison. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

In an interview with ERR, Madison, a member of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), said that the draft regulation does not clarify how the requirements for nature restoration would be divided between countries, citing the different situations in the Netherlands and Finland.

In addition, he said that countries would be required to produce annual assessments and reports on the situation, resulting in an increase in bureaucracy and expenses.

He said that while the regulation imposes obligations on farmers, foresters, and fishermen, it does not specify who is responsible for covering the costs they will incur.

According to Madison, no impact assessment of the proposed regulation's measures has been conducted, and it is uncertain how they would aid in preventing climate change.

He said, "It's a left-wing narrative that we're going to save the planet, but we don't know how to pay for it."

Yana Toom

Toom (Center) told ERR that despite abstaining from both main votes, she supported the amendments to the report's text that, in her opinion, make it more sound.

"I abstained because there is merit in both parties' arguments," Toom said, "there is no consensus on the commission's proposal, nor is there any indication that it will be reached soon, and laws adopted with such a track record are not enforceable on a European scale."

The fact that the environment committee was unable to reach a consensus on the proposed regulation, despite the support of 44 MEPs on both parties, is indicative of the climate in the European Parliament, she said.

Yana Toom. Source: ERR

However, if the initiative is denied, the European Commission would have to begin from scratch, resulting in a two- to three-year delay due to the upcoming European elections and subsequent months.

"Under the circumstances, it would be most prudent not to rush through a push-through, but rather to take time and delay the vote while continuing to seek a compromise. Within two or three months, the law could garner additional support, which would also facilitate trialogue negotiations. But for us, the entire process degenerated into a show of strength between Manfred Weber (an influential EPP member) and Frans Timmermans (Commission's executive vice president in charge of the European Green Deal, - ed.)," Toom said. 

"I voted for synergies between member states and the EU, as well as the commitment to delay the regulation's implementation if it results in exceptional socio-economic consequences. These were all adopted," Toom said. "However, with this vote, the entire agricultural component of the proposal was eliminated, which, in my opinion, weakens the proposal. I was opposed to that," she added.

On the basis of the position adopted on Wednesday, the delegation of the European Parliament will commence negotiations with the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, representing the national governments, in order to reach an agreement on the final text of the regulation.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa

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