Trilogue talks to finalise the EU nature restoration law will determine whether key European Parliament amendments to the law will make it to the final draft, which will be implemented over the coming years.
MEPs voted on Wednesday not to reject the law completely, but to amend it and adopt a proposal they will take into these talks with the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.
Several controversial elements of the law, such as targets which were sought for rewetting peatlands, have been deleted from the draft greenlighted by MEPs in Strasbourg.
This weakened draft of the law got the backing of 336 MEPs, while 300 voted against the proposals. All of Ireland’s 13 MEPs backed the updated text.
Rewetting elements of the law had been largely criticised by farmers at various public meetings held on the proposals in recent months.
However, MEPs voted to delete article nine from the text. Article nine would place legally-binging rewetting, farmland bird, pollinator and tillage soil targets on member states.
This deleted article was also going to set to impose targets on high-diversity landscape features on farmland, organic matter in tillage soils and grassland butterfly numbers.
It will remain unknown whether if the scrapping of these aspects of the law will be acceptable to the Commission or to ministers when the trilogue begins.
IFA’s focus now on trilogue talks
IFA president Tim Cullinan recognised that the amendments passed on Wednesday were significant, as he spoke from Strasbourg after the votes.
“The vote for outright rejection only lost by 12 votes, the reality is that the original EU Commission version of the law has in effect been pushed back,” he commented.
“Arising from its rejection at three EU parliament committees, significant changes and amendments have been made, particularly in relation to rewetting, and more changes are needed.”
Cullinan stated that more changes are still needed before a final version of the law can be agreed.
“There is real and genuine concern that there will be significant ramifications from passing this law in this format.
“There is still a lot of ambiguity around what the law will mean, and with no impact assessments undertaken at member state level the impact on farm incomes, food production and farming practices is unclear.
“The debate became about whether people are for or against nature, which is a misrepresentation of the situation. The detail of the proposed ‘law’ is the issue,” he said.
Minister Noonan looking for ‘common ground’
Minister of State at the Department of Housing Malcolm Noonan welcomed the news and told farmers that he is looking to find “common ground” to allow the law to work.
Discussions on which measures are implemented will be backed up by” robust” impact assessments, he said.
“I know that there are some communities who will be very concerned at today’s news. Let me be clear: nature restoration can only be delivered with the full support of the farming, forestry and fishing communities who own and/or manage our lands and seas.
“This support is something that, with the help of colleagues across Government, I intend to earn.
“I will also continue to advocate for a nature fund at the national level that is separate to the CAP in order to underpin the implementation of long-term restoration measures, as I have done since the very beginning of the debate on this issue,” the minister commented.
BirdWatch concern for peatlands
Oonagh Duggan of BirdWatch Ireland reacted to the votes by welcoming that MEPs had accepted the nature restoration law, but saying too that the proposals had been “weakened significantly”.
“It is really alarming, therefore, to see that the provisions to restore farmland biodiversity and peatlands were removed completely from the proposed law,” she said.
“We have to hope that the next step in the negotiations will restore critical provisions to help farmland birds, pollinators and peatlands”.