State of the Union: EU top jobs and Nature Restoration law

State of the Union: EU top jobs and Nature Restoration law

This week saw Brussels come to life again after the lull around the EU elections with incoming MEPS busy taking selfies to show their voters that they are getting down to work.

The big happening of the week, however, was EU leaders catching up on the European Parliament elections but their seven-hour summit was anti-climatic as they failed to reach an agreement on who get what top Brussels job.

"I think it's our collective duty to make a decision by the end of June. I made it several times publicly," EU Council president Charles Michel said.

But the summit proved a good day out for this man - outgoing Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.

With the Dutch coalition government almost sworn in, Mark Rutte hopes to become the next Secretary General of NATO.

He got some face time with Hungary's prime minister on the sidelines of the summit and agreed not to deploy Hungarian troops to Ukraine nor to spend Hungarian money on Ukrainian missions.

This got him a thumbs up from Viktor Orbán to run NATO.

What did not get a thumbs up among Brussels circles was this: the Hungarian presidency’s slogan for their upcoming 6-month EU presidency, which will kick off on July 1.

A copycat from the Trump days, Hungary chose “Make Europe Great Again” as their mantra to shape the EU’s political agenda and warn about Europe’s decline in the world.

Nature Restoration Law

Meanwhile in Luxembourg on Monday, EU environment ministers gave their final blessing to a landmark law that aspires to restore damaged ecosystems and polluted rivers.

After years of negotiations, it's a win for Belgium - currently presiding over the European Union - even though the Belgian government actually abstained from the vote due to divisions between Wallonia and Flanders.

The vote only passed thanks to Austria, whose Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler voted in favour, going against the government line.

"It's not only the legal case, but also long-standing practice in the Austrian government, that in council meetings the ministers decide. That's what I did today," Gewessler said.

To hear what this law will mean exactly, earlier we spoke to Ioannis Agapakis, an environmental lawyer from ClientEarth who has been following this law for over 4 years and was very pleased to see it pass.

Euronews: So what exactly is in this Nature Restoration Law? What will happen once it's implemented?

Agapakis: So, the law in practice seeks to restore all ecosystems in Europe in need of restoration by 2050. And in order to achieve that, it imposes upon member states a series of binding targets to restore a diverse array of ecosystems, from forests and oceans to farmlands and urban green spaces by 2030 through 2050. So, member states, the first stage that they will have in order to implement the Nature Restoration Law, will be to come up with their national restoration plans by 2026. These are the plans in which they will determine the measures, but as well as the areas that they will choose to restore. Yet delaying restoration action up until 2026 would not be advisable, as that would impose increased regulatory burden and costs upon member states.

Euronews: Now, this law was not, of course, without controversy. The farmers were against it. Did they get any concessions in the end?

Agapakis: So, the majority of negotiations revolved around agricultural ecosystems and farmers. It is very important to note that the law imposes zero legal obligations directly on farmers. And the provisions on the restoration of agricultural ecosystems have been significantly watered down in order to reflect the realities of the sector and the requests that were made. Still, I would like to underscore that reducing nature restoration into ideological warfare, as we observed happening in the past year, is quite irresponsible. Farmers are the ones that first experienced the adverse impacts of both the climate crisis but also the crisis of biodiversity collapse. And these are also the first and best agents to mitigate such crisis.

Euronews: And this law, of course, is a key component of the EU Green Deal. What else should we look out for in the EU Green Deal? Should other parts of it come to life soon? Or do you think it's politically dying out due to the political environment?

Agapakis: So, first and foremost, I think that the vast majority of legislative files coming out of the EU Green Deal have either been adopted or terminated due to political considerations. There are still a couple of files that we may see becoming reality in the coming years. For instance, the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive, as well as the revision of the Marine Strategic Framework Directive. Both instruments are quite critical in our transition into a climate-neutral and biodiverse Europe. Still, I think that the focus of EU lawmakers and member states, most importantly, will really be on implementation. The EU Green Deal provided a momentum, but also, at the end of the day, provided a series of legal tools that member states now have in their arsenal in order to tackle the complex and intertwined crisis that they are facing.