EU legislature backs major plan to better protect nature, meet climate goals


The European Union's legislature on Tuesday approved a watered-down plan to better protect nature and fight climate change in the 27-nation bloc, despite opposition from the biggest party in parliament and fierce protests from the farming community.

The plan is a key part of the EU's vaunted European Green Deal that seeks to establish the world's most ambitious climate and biodiversity targets and make the bloc the global point of reference on all climate issues.

Yet the Nature Restoration plan has had an extremely rough ride through the EU's complicated approval process and only a watered down version will now proceed to a final vote among the EU member states, where it is expected to pass easily.

The bill was adopted by a 329-275 vote with 24 abstentions, bigger margin than expected after the center-right Christian Democratic European People's Party of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen decided to vote against.

"Today is an important day for Europe, as we move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it," said Socialist S&D legislator César Luena, who led the bill through parliament. "The new law will also help us to fulfil many of our international environmental commitments."

The Greens group was equally elated even though the plan has lost some of its progressive edge during negotiations since last summer because of fierce opposition of the EPP, which had already taken much of the bite out of the original proposal.

"It has not been shut down, so it's still flying. It is imperfect. It is incomplete. It lacks ambition. But at least we have a foundation on which to build in the next term," said Philippe Lambert, co-president of the Greens group.

The EPP has also been a vocal backer of the farming community, which has been against any additional rules that would make their profession more complicated, bureaucratic and expensive.

"We are implementing additional bureaucratic rules for our farmers in a time where food production and food prices are having a direct impact," EPP leader Manfred Weber said.

Despite the succession of droughts, floods and heat waves that have swept through many areas in Europe, Weber called for a pause on such environmental action in order to protect economic competitiveness.

Farmers have been potesting throughout the bloc relentlessly for weeks.

Under the plan, member states would have to meet restoration targets for specific habitats and species, with the aim of covering at least 20% of the region's land and sea areas by 2030. But quarrels over exemptions and flexibility clauses allowing member states to skirt the rules plagued negotiations.

The EPP and other conservatives and the far right have insisted the plans would undermine food security, fuel inflation and hurt farmers.

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