'Bullied into voting': EPP chief accused of blackmailing MEPs over nature restoration law

'Bullied into voting': EPP chief accused of blackmailing MEPs over nature restoration law
German MEP and EPP leader Manfred Weber at press briefing of the EPP Group. Credit: EP Photo

As the European Parliament's Environmental Committee prepares to vote on a major biodiversity legislation on Thursday, committee chair and Renew MEP Pascal Canfin has accused the European People's Party (EPP) of blackmailing MEPs to reject the plan.

German MEP and leader of the EPP, Manfred Weber, has been accused of blackmail in a bid to bring down a key part of the European Green Deal – the EU's nature restoration law.

The EPP is taking a hard stance against the proposal, claiming that the measure would harm European farmers – but businesses, environmental experts and activists have strongly criticised the conservative opposition. A heated row has ensued over the last few weeks as the EPP attempts to pull the rug under the EU's efforts to restore and protect European biodiversity.

On Tuesday, over 3,330 scientists published a letter in support of the legislation and expressed "deep concern" over the EU's discussions on the matter. The scientists wrote that the opposing arguments go against scientific evidence, making a point-by-point refutation of different claims.

The environmental committee vote is set to be a tight contest. A rejection could see the proposal killed off and would also constitute the first failure of European Green Deal legislation in the Parliament.

The nature restoration law has already been rejected by the agriculture and fisheries committees, following opposition from right-wing MEPs in the EPP, Renew (RE) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

One MEP 'assumes' he will be able to vote

On Tuesday during a press conference, MEP Canfin stated that he knows several EPP members who have been threatened with exclusion from electoral lists next year if they do not follow the party line and vote against the bill on Thursday.

The ENVI chair has also said that the EPP chief has also put pressure on several prime ministers, including the Swedish one, to reopen the Council decision on the proposal.

Canfin's accusations came a day after Stanislav Polčák, Czech MEP broke with the party line and announced he would support the key biodiversity legislation.

The MEP has since backtracked, announcing he had asked to be substituted at Thursday's vote, due to his position being "fundamentally" against his group and the debate becoming too ideological. "I do not consider the EPP's overall rejection of the proposal to be a good decision, but I decided to respect it," Polčák wrote on Twitter.

"I assume that I will be able to vote with my conscience in plenary," the MEP added.

According to Pascal Canfin, conservative MEPs "are not allowed to vote in favour" of the nature restoration law and will be replaced by other MEPs who are not in the Environment Committee (ENVI) if they plan to do so.

Jutta Paulus, Greens/EFA MEP and member of ENVI, repeated Canfin's accusations on her social media, saying that MEPs are being "bullied into voting" against the legislation.

EPP returns blackmail accusations

Manfred Weber denied these accusations at a press conference, requesting that Canfin show proof of the allegations. Weber said that the ENVI chair is "nervous and panicked", according to Politico.

Pedro Lopez de Pablo, the head of communications at the EPP, responded by saying that ENVI chair Pascal Canfin and commission vice-president Frans Timmermans are "the only ones who are blackmailing MEPs," according to EUObserver.

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Christine Schneider, EPP group Chief Negotiator on nature restoration, has said that the EU executive and Vice-President Timmermans are putting undue pressure on the proposal. One MEP told Euractiv that the Commission is operating in "a blackmailing mode".

In a recent interview with De Standaard, Frans Timmermans said that he finds the polarization in Brussels around nature restoration to be worrying.

"One of the most important elements of the Green Deal is that we were able to say for a long time: this transcends party political differences. This is about the long-term survival of the human species. I am really afraid that climate policy will be made part of the culture wars," Timmermans said.

Business backing

Weber, however, is determined to block the law. "The proposal must be dropped," he told De Volksrant, saying that the EU has already put many initiatives in place to fight climate change. "The history books will substantiate the full extent of that revolution and the EPP's leading role in it. But over the next five years, we need to adjust the Green Deal. We need to think again about jobs, about competitiveness."

At the same time, businesses have come out in support of the nature restoration law. On Monday, over 90 corporations, including Nestlé, Unilever and IKEA, urged MEPS "not to betray farmers facing the unprecedented collapse of our ecosystems and climate change."

The nature restoration law aims to recover Europe's damaged natural habitats in order to respond to the biodiversity and climate crisis. The law would enact the first-ever legally binding targets on fauna and flora restoration.

By 2030, 20% of the EU's seas and lands should be covered by protection measures, under the proposal.

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