The wheels came off the European green consensus as a coalition of populists and centre-right EPP MEPs were able to frustrate a proposal that would radically limit where and how European farmers could operate during a heated session of the Parliament’s environment committee in Brussels Tuesday, June 27th.
The Nature Restoration Law (NRL), which is designed to prevent agricultural production on up to a fifth of land in the EU, failed to muster a working majority to pass committee after EPP politicians lent their weight to a campaign to defeat the bill in a heated 44 to 44 vote.
The tie vote means that the NRL does not carry and that the Committee will recommend that the legislation be thrown back to the Commission for a rewrite—a sign perhaps that conservatives are losing patience with green policies ahead of next year’s European elections. An EPP-led backlash against the NRL previously forced a session of the Committee to be adjourned earlier this month.
The EPP and other right-wing factions argue that the NRL jeopardises food security at a time of inflation by rolling out stringent new regulations that intentionally drive down agricultural production in order to avert what some environmentalists say is an impending ecological collapse.
Both the Parliament’s agricultural and fishing committees had already rejected the NRL as Cypriot farmers took to the streets in Nicosia last week complaining that the new regulations would make 79% of Cypriot farmland unviable for food production.
Both sides of the divide introduced over 200 amendments ahead of the failed committee vote. It is not the end of the road, however for the NRL. It will be voted on again at a plenary session next month, though it has been referred to as “politically dead” by many within EPP following the committee defeat.
The decision by the EPP to turn their backs on the NRL evoked strong anger from their usual partner, the S&D parliamentary group, which accused the normally tame EPP of aligning with dangerous forces on the populist right. Relations between the EPP and S&D are crucial to the legislative process within Parliament despite both sides being rumoured to be scoping out different ideological partners.
In an antagonistic press conference, Spanish socialist César Luena linked the EPP to an emergent form of “European Trumpism” and to conceding to the far right. Luena and other S&D MEPs also alleged that EPP President Manfred Weber had artificially inflated opposition to the NRL by stacking today’s committee vote with Green CDU MEPs, though they were optimistic that the NRL could be resurrected.
The EPP responded in kind at a press conference held after the vote, highlighting the alleged bullying of their MEPs by Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans who authored the NRL during the legislative process.
German CDU MEP Christine Schneider emotionally declared Timmermans to be the “worst and most partisan” Commission official she had ever dealt with, and other MEPs from EPP said that the Commission had not conducted a proper impact assessment on how the NRL would affect consumers and producers.
In a statement to The European Conservative, Schneider’s office said that “if the European Commission had taken our concerns seriously a year ago, we would not be here today,” adding that the EPP regretted the breakdown in talks over the NRL.
Schneider’s CDU colleague Peter Liese also defended the EPP’s green credentials saying that the NRL in its current form went a step too far even for conservatives and could increase dependency on non-EU nations such as Qatar and Russia.
Overall, the defeat of the NRL has surprised many on the conservative Right, including MEPs from the ECR group, who are rumoured to be eyeing a potential coalition deal with the EPP after the European elections in 2024.
The European Conservative spoke to FratelIi d’Italia MEP Pietro Fiocchi, who voted against the NRL. Fiocchi said:
Today’s vote was a surprise to some but not to me, as we have seen great tensions between Timmermans and EPP MEPs in recent days. Today’s vote was not just an EPP revolt against an S&D report, but a real political vote that could herald a shift in Parliament in favour of the centre-right in the next legislature.
Perhaps a sign of things to come as the balance of power shifts to the right, the defeat of the NRL could mark the beginning of the end for a legislative agenda that has heavily favoured green overregulation since 2019.
As farmer protests spread throughout Europe and food supplies are strained by the war in Ukraine, it appears that even moderate elements in EPP are beginning to think twice about the green dogma that they freely endorsed just a few months ago.