The European Parliament has just voted (Tuesday morning) to pass the EU nature restoration law, with the law passing by 329 votes to 275, with 24 abstentions.

The nature restoration law represents a cornerstone of the European Commission’s Green Deal and was passed despite a wave of farmer protests sweeping the EU and Brussels itself in recent weeks.

Excessive levels of EU regulations had been among the common concerns raised by farmers across Europe.

The largest MEP grouping in the European Parliament and the one to which Fine Gael belongs – the EPP – said on Monday that it would vote against the proposals.

However, Fine Gael’s MEPs announced early Tuesday that they would be defying their group’s position and would vote in favour of the amended law.

Independent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan also defied his group’s stated position on the law and voted to reject it on the basis that it does not clearly outline which funds will be used to compensate farmers rolling out restoration measures.

Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus also voted against the law.

How did you MEPs vote?

The breakdown of Ireland’s 13 MEPs’ votes on the EU nature restoration law on Tuesday is as follows:

  • Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews – in favour.
  • Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher – in favour.
  • Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey – in favour.
  • Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune – in favour.
  • Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald – in favour.
  • Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh – in favour.
  • Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly – in favour.
  • Green MEP Ciaran Cuffe – in favour.
  • Green MEP Grace O'Sullivan – in favour.
  • Independent MEP Clare Daly – in favour.
  • Independent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan - against.
  • Independent MEP Mick Wallace – in favour.
  • Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus - against.
  • What’s in the law?

    The law will pace an overarching target on Ireland to restore 30% of degraded habitats to good condition by 2030, with this target to rise to 60% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

    The habitats covered by the law vary widely and include grasslands, forests, bog, rivers and lakes.

    It will require at least 30% of drained peatlands to be restored by 2030 - at least one quarter of which should be rewetted - and with the peatland targets increasing to 40% of such lands by 2040 and 50% by 2050, with one third rewetted.

    The law provides an “emergency brake” for targets related to agricultural ecosystems, which allows targets to be suspended under “exceptional circumstances” where the land needed for EU food production is “severely” reduced.

    Green Deal push back

    The passing of the EU nature restoration law came despite significant pushback to the law and other key Green Deal regulations, including the sustainable use of pesticides regulations and the industrial emissions directive.

    The former proposal to impose legally-binding pesticide reduction targets was dropped by the European Commission after MEPs shot the proposals down at the end of 2023.

    The Commission’s relook of the industrial emissions directive had sought to introduce an environmental licensing regime to cattle farms larger than 150 livestock units, but MEPs voted to keep cattle excluded from the directive.

    From proposals to law

    When the European Commission first proposed the nature restoration law in June 2022, it had sought higher rewetting targets and a stricter approach to restoring nature than has been voted through on Tuesday.

    Some 70% of a member state’s peat soils would have had to be restored under these plans, but this particularly controversial element of the law was since reduced to 50%.

    The means of tracking restoration progress was also changed significantly from the initial proposal; progress towards targets will be judged on whether measures in place, rather than through a results-based approach that had been in the original proposal.

    The law was first proposed in June 2022 and has been amended quite significantly since. / Valerie O’Sullivan

    The law’s path through the European Parliament had not been plain sailing, with both the fisheries and agriculture committees initially voting to reject the law and the usually green-leaning environment committee split down right down the middle and not achieving the majority needed to back it.

    June 2023 saw the entire parliament voting on whether to progress the law or scrap it; the law passed after amendments were made, but only by a razor-thin margin and with all 13 Irish MEPs supporting the watered-down version of the law.

    The vote in June saw rewetting and farmland-specific targets removed from the Parliament’s negotiating position on the proposals and flexibilities were added to guarantee restoration measures will not impact food security.

    However, rewetting did make it back into the final text of the law which passed on Tuesday.

    What next?

    Ireland will have two years to draft a nature restoration plan, outlining how it will meet its 2030, 2040 and 2050 targets.

    This plan will detail which measures are to be taken to reach the targets and on which lands these measures will be implemented on.

    Similar to the CAP strategic plan, the nature restoration plan will need to be approved by the European Commission.

    It is understood that stakeholder groups - which include farm organisations and environmental groups - will be convened as soon as member states give their stamp of approval to the final draft.

    This is a formal step in the process, as member states have already had an input into the final text drawn up during the trilogue negotiations.