The Story of the Nature Restoration Law

The Nature Restoration Law is at an impasse. The legislative process is in trouble. The law mandates member states of the European Union to restore natural habitats.

The Nature Restoration Law is at an impasse. The legislative process is in trouble. The law mandates member states of the European Union to restore natural habitats – forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, and lakes. The goals are ambitious – 30% restoration by 2030, 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050. Progressive legislators first brought the law to legislative attention in June of 2022. In two years of negotiations the proponents of the law accepted deep compromises. Finally in February of 2023 it was adopted in the European Parliament with 329 votes in favor, 275 against and 24 in abstention. All seemed well for a while. Then on the 25’th of March this year four member states withdrew their support, while four others abstained. The project fell through. It is now off the agenda and postponed indefinitely.

To lay the ground for the recovery of the law and its eventual success one must review the reasons for its failure in the first place. In a string of circumstances support for the Restoration law collapsed both at the grass root base and at the bow of political leadership. From its very inception, the green and left of center political elite carried forward the law. In return its opponents formulated the political argument as a measure to safeguard against an overly aggressive green and liberal agenda. In this debate the EU citizenry split into three broad political positions on the adoption of the new law. By far the largest group are the disengaged and the mildly indifferent. This is not a testament of the law’s benefits to society and ecology but rather a show of the state of inability of elite and activists to project its benefits onwards to the daily consciousness of EU citizens. Where immediate economic and inflation woes, war in the East are competing for share and attention. The citizen supporters of the law are the core of green and environmental lobbies & activists. This is always a solid and effective cohort but a minority, which does not have a broad societal grasp in large and constant population scale across EU countries. Finally come the opponents from the cohorts of conservative, right of center citizen groups with the critical and striking participation of European farmers. Here it is then the first fault line that cracked the adoption target. The democratic, populous support and legitimacy of the project did not withstand secondhand calculations in an already stressed political climate. At the critical moment, when eight member states decided to withdraw support or abstain, the existing reserve of populous support for the treaty in these countries and across the union was not enough to compensate, to rebound and to make governments change course.

From the beginning of negotiations two years ago the proponents of the treaty failed to win over the political support of the European farmers. This was essential, the possibility was real because the argument was there, while the outcome turned out to be unfortunate. The principal arguments for the sustainability of agricultural lands and practices and for preservation of local biodiversity have existed in the farming community for centuries and for generations. Preserving vast shares of wilderness in forest, river, and marsh within and across farmed lands sustains the availability of clean drinking water, game hunting, natural timber, medicinal herbs and berries, human recreation. An adjusted Keynesian statement would certainly maintain that with climate risk here to stay and without nature restoration eventually there will be no farming left. Multi-generational farmers recognize this argument. The new generation of farmers are supportive of the proposition of long-term food security. And yet clearly this message failed to come across and gain their support. It failed to bring the farmers to the side of the ecologists. Instead, the farmers joined the camp of opposition, blockaded European cities, roads, and parliaments, burned tires, crashed vehicles. The fallout opened a second legitimacy fissure in the support for the restoration law and the project managers could not find the tools to close it on a short notice.

At the bow of political leadership in March things changed quickly for the worse. The calculation is simple. Economic stagnation, inflation, war in the East, migration of populations filled up the crisis management agenda of political elites and the shock absorbing capacity of European citizens. In this mapping of pressing social pains attending to nature restoration and ecology seemed like idyllic luxury. To top it all the European Parliament elections are just around the corner. For a political leader embracing the agenda of this law in the current election climate could become a display of political naiveté at best and a one-way ticket to oblivion at worst. So, there is the third crack in the project plan. The weight of current systemic shocks and social failures and the stressful expectation of parliamentary elections put pressure on political forces and a critical mass of them withdrew to safer legislative ground. Fleeing from risk to safety and letting short term political calculation crowd out the long-term vision proved to be the prevailing marching order.

Thus, we arrive at the current impasse with the Nature Restoration law suffering from indefinite absence from the political agenda of the EU Council. First, the revival of the law and its adoption demand a broader citizen’s support. It is upon the teams of activists and environmental organizations, upon the crews of local and national politicians who support the law to reengage and lay the groundwork for shoring up a wide civic push for the law’s reinstatement. The nature of this engagement must describe and define the broader economic and civic future of the Union within the framework of the Nature Restoration law. The necessity of this law must be lodged in the consciousness of EU citizens as part of the picture of their shared future. The gains from short-term calculations must appear to be immaterial. The political elite needs to tell the story of a long-term vision of ecological sustainability of agricultural lands and of food security as an indelible part of the social and economic well-being of the EU citizen. This needs to happen in the countries which abstained and voted against the law as well as across the whole union. Once again this is a task for all political forces supporting the law from the leaders to policy technicians, to staffers and troopers. Such measures will strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the project, which needs to become unquestionable and indestructible, so that the law would have a chance for revival.

Ivelin M. Zvezdov
Ivelin M. Zvezdov
Ivelin Zvezdov is a financial and insurance economist by training. He has masters' degrees from the Universities of St. Andrews and Oxford. He works on natural and man-made catastrophe modeling and product development for the (re)insurance industry. His research interests include climate change and environmental risk, contagion and propagation of systemic risk, sustainable and ecosystems approaches to managing natural resources. Mr. Zvezdov has published research papers on financial and insurance quantitative methods for risk management, and on environmental and biodiversity risk estimation.