EU delays nature law vote as countries’ support wanes

By Thomson Reuters Mar 20, 2024 | 8:35 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries on Wednesday delayed a planned vote on the bloc’s policy to restore nature, after too few governments signalled they would approve the flagship environmental law.

Belgium, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency and chairs negotiations among EU member states, delayed the vote until Friday, a spokesperson for the Belgian presidency said.

The EU nature restoration law has faced a backlash from some governments and lawmakers concerned that it would impose burdensome rules on farmers, who have staged months of protests across Europe over complaints including EU regulations.

The vote among EU countries’ ambassadors was supposed to be a formality, to approve a deal on the nature law agreed between EU countries and lawmakers last year. It is intended to restore degraded natural ecosystems and reverse the decline of many of Europe’s natural habitats.

But months of farmers’ protests have increased pressure on governments over green measures, while national elections and domestic concerns have led some EU countries to reconsider their stance on the law.

The law had been expected to pass with support from a slim reinforced majority of the EU’s 27 member states, but EU officials said late changes governments’ positions meant that was no longer the case.

Countries including Italy and Sweden have opposed the law, and Belgium and Austria are set to abstain, EU officials said.

The Netherlands has decided to oppose the law, and EU officials said Hungary had indicated it was still considering its position.

Germany was set to support the law on Wednesday, EU officials said, despite the Free Democrats, a junior partner in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government, indicating this week they could not back it.

The nature law is one of the EU’s biggest pieces of environmental legislation, requiring countries to introduce measures restoring nature on a fifth of their land and sea by 2030.

The EU Parliament approved the final law last month. EU countries’ environment ministers are due on Monday to give the law the final formal approval it needs to take effect but cannot do so without getting the green light from ambassadors.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett, editing by Inti Landauro anfd Timothy Heritage)