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Reconciling biodiversity and the economy

Biodiversity and nature conservation are high on the political agenda in Brussels. They are a focus of the European Green Deal. With its proposal for a Nature Restoration Regulation, the European Commission seeks to commit EU member states to ambitious targets. On July 12, the plenary of the European Parliament adopted the proposal after previous highly controversial discussions in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

When the European Commission presented its proposal for a Nature Restoration Regulation in June 2022, the objective was clear: Europe should take a decisive step forward in preserving and improving biodiversity. According to the Commission, 81 percent of protected habitats in the EU are in poor condition, with 36 percent deteriorating and only 9 percent improving.

All European ecosystems - from natural, semi-natural to highly modified - are under increasing pressure, suffering from the worsening effects of climate change and other developments, such as excessive use of fertilizers, intensification of land use or land conversion.

Commission's ambitious restoration targets - little room for manoeuvre for member states

The Commission's proposal as now approved by the parliament sets a general restoration target for terrestrial and marine areas of the Union of 20 percent by 2030 and specific targets for all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. These include terrestrial and marine ecosystems, urban ecosystems, as well as river and forest ecosystems. EU Member States are obliged to draw up national restoration plans in which they define the concrete measures to achieve the restoration goals on their territory. They are given little flexibility in doing so. The restoration plans are submitted to the Commission for evaluation.

Commitment of companies to the conservation of biodiversity

German industry is committed to the protection of biodiversity and its task to contribute to its conservation. In fact, companies in Germany have since long been making a significant contribution to the conservation or restoration of biodiversity, be it through replacement and compensation measures provided for by law, or through voluntary additional nature conservation measures, in environmental education or within the framework of scientific projects. The BDI generally welcomes efforts at EU level to promote the protection of biological diversity. The aim must be to make balanced decisions for the sustainable development of ecosystems within the framework of sound economic development.

Commission proposal means restriction of economic activities

However, the new regulation means an additional burden for industry, as permits for industrial activities might become more difficult or even impossible. Biotope protection will be significantly extended beyond the existing protected areas. If habitat types are restored on a large scale and further reintroduced where they once existed, the number and area of protected areas will increase considerably. The pressure on land currently present in Germany today – which is also evident in other areas, such as the expansion of renewable energies – is likely to be further exacerbated and make industrial production in Germany even more difficult, in many cases even impossible. The necessary expansion of renewable energies might as well become more difficult, ultimately therefore jeopardising the transformation of the industry/economy.

Controversial discussion in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament

The Commission's proposal had been discussed very controversially in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. At their meeting in June 2023, the environment ministers only agreed to support the draft legislation by a narrow majority. In the European Parliament, it was even rejected outright by the Agriculture Committee and the Fisheries Committee. In the Environment Committee, which is the lead committee, the report on the draft law also narrowly missed a majority by 44 votes to 44 after a lengthy vote. Many Member States and MEPs were of the opinion that the burden for agriculture and for businesses resulting out of the envisaged measures are too high and that the Member States were given too little leeway to achieve the targets. Particularly the Group of the European People's Party (EPP) was calling on the Commission to withdraw the proposal. However, the Commission stuck to its plans and has only signaled selective concessions to its critics in the Council and Parliament.

With the final approval in the plenary of the European Parliament as of July 12, now implementation aspects, such as concrete measures, priorities and timelines, will be in the focus of debates especially in the member states of the EU.