In the next few weeks, EU lawmakers have a chance to show their strong support for nature and sustainable agriculture, argue Sabien Leemans and Jabier Ruiz. But will they?
Sabien Leemans and Jabier Ruiz are agriculture and biodiversity policy researchers at the WWF European Policy Office.
When the European Commission announced the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, exactly one year ago, we estimated that they could be potential game changers for EU nature, food and farming policies.
They were certainly not perfect but contained elements that could mark the end of business as usual in EU policy-making, such as a commitment to present binding EU nature restoration targets before the end of 2021, and a new EU law on sustainable food systems in 2023.
Why do these two proposals matter?
Firstly, Europe’s nature is in a dire state, and protecting what little we have left is simply not good enough – we also need to bring nature back through large-scale restoration. Voluntary restoration targets, like the one in the previous EU Biodiversity Strategy, however, clearly do not work.
That is why we need legislation, making nature restoration a legal requirement for all Member States. Restoring natural ecosystems on land and at sea will not only contribute to halting biodiversity loss, it is also critical to climate change mitigation and adaptation, while providing huge benefits for people’s health and wellbeing.
Secondly, we also need to address the main driver for biodiversity loss in Europe: unsustainable agriculture. We already know that the new Common Agricultural Policy continues to be captured by the agrifood industry and will be at odds with the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy.
In this regard, the promised EU legislation for a sustainable food system may be the best opportunity to achieve a different result next time around.
Such an overarching EU law could become instrumental in helping the CAP escape its harmful inertia, turning it into a much more effective and modern farm policy that embraces emerging priorities like climate change mitigation and biodiversity restoration.
A year on from the announcement of the two strategies, we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has made us only that much more aware that human health is intrinsically linked with both animal health and the health of the planet as a whole – we cannot survive as a species by continuing to destroy nature.
There is ample scientific evidence to guide the political response, but if science isn’t convincing enough, ambitious action is also what people are demanding, with more than nine in 10 EU citizens considering nature loss a serious global concern.
Unfortunately, EU legislation drafted by the European Commission often ends up being watered down in the negotiations between the European Council and Parliament.
We’re seeing this, especially poignantly, in the current CAP trilogues where the vast majority of the proposals made by the Parliament that could still bring the CAP somewhat closer to the European Green Deal are at risk – or have already been lost – in the final stages of the negotiations.
Members of the European Parliament risk coming out of the CAP trilogues almost empty handed, as though they were just commentators rather than co-legislators.
To avoid a dreadful sense of déjà vu, the European Parliament must start playing a more relevant and progressive role so that the game-changing potential of the upcoming EU legislation on nature restoration and sustainable food systems can be realised.
MEPs need to show they are willing to defend strong EU legislation against the pressure from the Member State governments and industry lobbyists.
As it happens, the Parliament can already send a strong and unequivocal signal to other EU institutions now: Next week, the Environment committee will be voting on its own position on the Biodiversity Strategy, followed by the plenary vote in June. That same month will also see the votes on the Farm to Fork Strategy.
What present will MEPs bring to the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategy’s first birthday? Considering the sustainability challenges that need to be addressed this decade, party poopers are not welcome.