The European Parliament has a rare opportunity to boost the ambition of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy by voting for nature, writes the EEB’s Laura Hildt.

Over a year after the release of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which national governments endorsed through Council Conclusions in October 2020, the European Parliament is finally about to adopt its position on this decade’s plan for how to address one of the biggest crises of our time – the destruction of nature. In the upcoming plenary vote on the biodiversity report, all MEPs must now make sure to get it right – we simply do not have the time for more horse-trading at the expense of our health, wellbeing and future.

The Environment committee (ENVI) adopted a solid report last week, demanding the protection of ecosystems, including the strict protection of old growth forests, legally binding nature restoration targets, recognising that protection alone is no longer enough, while also calling for the full implementation and enforcement of existing nature directives. The Parliament’s report carries significant political weight and will shape the implementation of the strategy.

However, this good work is now at risk of being watered down in the last step towards the adoption of the report, the plenary vote. Over the past few months, representatives from each party have been locked in long negotiating, carefully compiling over 1,200 suggestions on an original draft from December into compromise amendments to the Biodiversity Strategy.

Even though all parties agreed to the compromises that also received the majority in the ENVI Committee, individual MEPs from the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP), the eurosceptical European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the centrist Renew are now tuning around with last minute plenary amendments that undermine the agreed compromises. This makes it appear like some intense last-minute lobbying took place, leading some parliamentarians to stray away from public interest considerations towards individual industry interests.

This looks poor politically, especially when considering that EPP’s shadow rapporteur MEP Alexander Bernhuber signalled party agreement to all compromise amendments. More concretely, the last-minute dissent risks undermining the level of ambition for the EU’s biodiversity during the critical 2020s and, with that, threatens our core life support system. 

Legal fixes

One key issue that the Parliament can positively influence is the ongoing work by the Commission to put forward a proposal for a new restoration law by the end of the year. The Parliament should give the Commission a much-needed push to significantly ramp up the ambition of the new law, recognising the major opportunity this law provides, instead of making it a weak instrument to simply implement pre-existing obligations.

On the latter issue, the Parliament is in the perfect position to require more Commission action on enforcement and to demand adequate resources are allocated to this work, including new personnel, as well as increased transparency from the Commission.

The strong language in the ENVI Committee’s report on the above issues must now also be supported in the plenary by rejecting all amendments proposed after the ENVI Committee report, since this document was negotiated among most political parties in good faith. 

Lost in a forest of amendments

Strong and clear demands on the strict protection of forests and a parliamentary request for a long-awaited Forest Strategy focused on restoration and protection can provide a good counterweight against criticism on strict protection from the logging lobby.

However, the plenary amendments brought by conservative MEPs now threaten the Parliament’s stance on the Forest Strategy, such as the inclusion of legally binding forest restoration targets and the call for biodiversity to be at the core of nature-friendly forestry guidelines.

In addition, coupled with almost ironic language on humans and nature being inseparable, conservatives are calling for hunting and fishing to be allowed in strictly protected areas, which risks undermining the needed focus on non-intervention management that allows nature to breathe and to recover. 

The ENVI committee resisted attempts to trim back on forestry provisions. The same is now needed for the plenary vote, requiring MEPs to vote in line with their best conscience towards the public they represent, instead of giving in to last minute changes of party lines.

The failed inter-institutional negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) demonstrated once again how individual industry interests cloud the judgment of agricultural ministers, leading to an unwillingness to compromise on social and environmental dimensions of how the nearly €400 billion of public money should be spent. In the middle of a CAP drama, a climate and biodiversity crisis, and a global pandemic also driven by the former, MEPs would be ill-advised to last-minute water down a solid Parliament position on the protection of biodiversity.

Therefore, MEPs must now demonstrate that they have understood the science and the demands of civil society. It is truly time to prioritise public health, wellbeing and the protection of fundamental rights, especially for younger generations, by voting for the ENVI committee’s biodiversity report in its entirety at the plenary.

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