Laying waste to Europe in pursuit of short-term profits

The bitter ongoing battle this summer to get the crucial Nature Restoration Law enacted and the dirty tricks campaign orchestrated by the EPP on behalf of agri-industrial lobbyists is not yet over, but below, I reported for the Irish Examiner in late June on how the whole process came within a hairs-breadth of being scuppered.

EFFORTS BY THE centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) to torpedo the EU’s new Nature Restoration Law came up short earlier on Thursday, but by the narrowest of margins.

Loud cheers broke out at the European Parliament’s environment committee as the EPP motion to have the law simply thrown out ended up in deadlock, with the vote split 44-44 among the 88 members of the committee.

This means the restoration law survives and will now go to a full vote of the European Parliament. Committee member Grace O’Sullivan described the outcome as “a disappointing end to a frantic morning”, adding there was still time to pressure MEPs to support nature restoration.

Voting in the ENVI on nature restoration has now been postponed until the next committee meeting, which takes place on June 27. Various amendments were also voted in on Thursday, including one in which the EPP spearheaded the defeat of efforts to “green” European cities.

Incredulity

This decision was met with incredulity by Ariel Brunner, director of Birdlife Europe. “The ideological crusade [of the right-wing] is so extreme that playing the ‘farmers party’ means literally killing people in the cities. Just wow”, he tweeted.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, a row erupted involving allegations that German MEP Manfred Weber, chair of the EPP had “blackmailed” members of his own EPP voting bloc, with threats of political retaliation, including being thrown out of the EPP, if they voted to support nature restoration.

Earlier this week, Czech MEP Stanislav Pol?ák said he would vote for the law, but the following day he said he had asked to be substituted at Thursday’s vote in the environment committee.

“I do not consider the EPP’s overall rejection of the proposal to be a good decision, but I decided to respect it”, the EU Observer reported. Despite evidence of coercion of its own members to vote against their conscience, the EPP continues to deny it has engaged in blackmail.

Another MEP, Frédérique Ries from Belgium, decided to be replaced during Thursday’s vote “so as not to betray my party, my group and my conscience”.

The EPP, of which Fine Gael is a member, is a centre-right grouping within the EU, but has drifted towards the far-right position in its blanket opposition to the EU’s efforts to throw a lifeline to its beleaguered ecosystems, many of which are now buckling under the pressures of intensive agriculture and climate change.

Last summer was the hottest ever across Europe in over 500 years of instrumental records, with major rivers such as the Rhine in Germany and the Po in Italy running at record lows.

With an El Niño global weather system developing this year, there is every likelihood the summer of 2023 with be even hotter, with potentially devastating consequences for food production as well as natural ecosystems.

Anti-nature lobbyists

The anti-nature lobbyists were hard at work from early morning in Brussels. The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) tweeted pictures with Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher and Sean Kelly.

IFA environment committee chair Paul O’Brien described Thursday morning’s deadlock as “a wake-up call for the EU Commission”, which he claims “has blundered on and refused to heed the warnings about what they were proposing to do. It’s been an example of how not to bring people with you”.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, more than 3,300 scientists from across Europe, including dozens from Ireland, jointly issued an open letter in support of the EU’s Green Deal. The letter pointed out that claims being made by opponents of nature restoration argued it would negatively impact farmers and the fishing industry as well as threatening food security and killing jobs.

“These claims not only lack scientific evidence, but even contradict it. We urge policymakers to continue the legislative process for the nature restoration law as a cornerstone of food security and human health”.

The open letter addressed six key arguments being made by opponents of nature restoration. The first involves claims that it will impact food security. “The biggest risks to food security stem from climate change and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as pollination and pest control”.

And, rather than marine protected areas hurting the fishing industry, the scientific evidence shows these areas in fact boost marine life by allowing it to recover and regenerate, and so actually benefit the industry.

On food industry claims that nature restoration will “prevent Europe from feeding the world”, the scientists noted Europe can contribute to global food security “by reducing the drivers of global food scarcity, such as high meat consumption and the use of biofuels”.

Nature protection, they added, improves resilience and enhances biodiversity, which in turn offers our food systems better protection against the intensifying impacts of climate change.

A nature-depleted Europe is far more vulnerable to extreme droughts and desertification, wildfires and crises arising from the reduction in the availability of fresh water for agriculture as well as human consumption.

Voting against nature restoration is voting against our own common good and in favour of powerful vested interests that are quite prepared to lay waste to Europe in pursuit of short-term profits.

According to Birdlife Europe’s Ariel Brunner, the EPP under Manfred Weber “has now fully brought to the EU the US crazy politics. Science doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter. People’s lives don’t matter. All that matters is playing us vs them and using hatred and division to get to power”.

This, remember, is what Fine Gael, among others, is wholeheartedly supporting in the EU. This may be worth keeping in mind for when people come knocking on your door looking for votes.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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