Member States betray deal on Nature Restoration Law following Hungary's U-turn

Posted on 22 March 2024

Sudden change in Hungary’s position remains unchallenged by Sweden, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy
Environmental NGOs from the #RestoreNature coalition have reacted with incredulity to the failure of EU Member States to achieve the necessary qualified majority to adopt the long-awaited Nature Restoration Law (NRL) in today’s meeting of EU ambassadors (Coreper). This law, the most significant piece of nature legislation in the EU since the 1990s, now faces an uncertain future, contradicting the EU's stated commitment to biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability.

An agreement on the NRL had already been reached in November, and approved by Member State ambassadors. The Council vote planned for Monday the 25th of March was to be a mere formality. But despite widespread support from citizens, the European Parliament, scientists, businesses, and 19 Member States, the NRL has been held hostage by last-minute political
manoeuvres. 

The unexpected and clearly politically motivated change in Hungary’s position was left unchallenged by Sweden, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy - who continue to either abstain or oppose - has now put the NRL in jeopardy again, giving  Hungary’s President Viktor Orbán the green light to further his own agenda and hold EU decision-making hostage.

The #RestoreNature coalition, consisting of BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, EEB and WWF EU, says: “We condemn all Member States who are not supporting the law - at best, it suggests a deep failure to understand the situation we are in and what it means for the rights of citizens. Allowing Viktor Orbán to sabotage the NRL flies in the face of science, citizens’ concerns, the European Parliament’s support, and corporate backing for the law. It is completely incomprehensible and appalling to see the NRL being sacrificed on the altar of populist anti-green sentiment, devoid of any rational explanation, and undermining the democratic decision-making process.” 

The NGOs are calling on the Belgian presidency to work urgently to break the deadlock and ensure the adoption of the NRL before the summer break. They are also calling on Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, to intervene decisively to salvage at least one element of the biodiversity strategy, and a key pillar of her European Green Deal.

The credibility of the EU is now at stake, particularly in a critical year of EU elections. The failure to enact the NRL not only undermines the EU's commitment to environmental protection - it also jeopardises the EU’s decision-making processes on other crucial files, including the achievement of its ambitious climate targets and its readiness to address impending climate-related disasters. Further, it leaves the EU's ambitions as a global leader in tatters by rendering it unable to meet its commitments and obligations under the Global Biodiversity Framework agreed in 2022.
 
The Nature Restoration Law is our best chance to adapt to worsening climate impacts
© Rohan Kelly