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EU countries split over nature law in latest blow to green agenda


A butterfly sits in a lavender field in the summer season in Nowy Pozog, Poland, July 15, 2023. /Reuters
A butterfly sits in a lavender field in the summer season in Nowy Pozog, Poland, July 15, 2023. /Reuters

A butterfly sits in a lavender field in the summer season in Nowy Pozog, Poland, July 15, 2023. /Reuters

The European Union's flagship policy aimed at restoring damaged nature is tearing on the edge. The decision to proceed with the law on Monday was canceled after Hungary unexpectedly withdrew its support for the bill.

The vote, scheduled to take place at a meeting of EU countries' environment ministers in Brussels, was abruptly called off after Hungary said it would no longer support the policy – wiping out the already – slim majority of countries in favor and leaving ministers struggling to decide their next steps.

The nature law represents the latest in a series of EU environmental policies to face opposition, as policymakers try to respond to months of angry farmers' protests over complaints, including strict green EU regulations. The EU has already weakened numerous green rules in an attempt to quell the protests.

"The agricultural sector is a very important sector, not only in Hungary, but everywhere in Europe," Hungary's state secretary for environment Aniko Raisz told reporters. She said Hungary's concerns included the costs.

Alain Maron, the Belgian environment minister who chaired Monday's discussions, said negotiations would persist, but it was not clear what changes to the law could garner support from its detractors.

"We don't know exactly what are some reasons to be against this law for certain countries ... it's possible that they change their mind," he told media at a press conference.

The law would be among the EU's biggest environmental policies, requiring countries to introduce measures restoring nature on a fifth of their land and sea by 2030. Canceling a policy at this late stage of EU lawmaking is highly unusual.

Some EU diplomats said countries had already watered down the law during negotiations and suggested Budapest's opposition was purely political rather than over a specific policy issue.

EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said shelving the law would send a "disastrous signal" about the EU's credibility, especially after the bloc pushed other countries in UN negotiations to back stronger targets to protect nature.

"We are fooling ourselves if we pretend that we can win our fight against climate change without nature," Sinkevicius said.

Opposed to it are Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. Austria, Belgium, Finland and Poland intend to abstain in the vote.

Any one of those eight countries changing position could allow the law to pass. The rest of the EU's 27 member states support the policy.

Spanish climate minister Teresa Ribera said it would be a "huge irresponsibility" to reduce efforts to tackle worsening nature loss and climate change.

The law's aim is to turn around the 81 percent of Europe's natural habitats that are classed as in poor condition. But the policy has faced a backlash from some governments and lawmakers concerned it would impose burdensome rules on farmers or clash with other industries.

Source(s): Reuters
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