The controversial Nature Restoration Law faces an uncertain future after a meeting of EU environment ministers today.

It had been expected that environment ministers meeting in the Council of the EU today (Monday, March 25) would give the final green light to the law, following its adoption by the European Parliament in February, which followed on from an agreed text emerging from the complicated trilogue process in November.

However, as reported by Agriland on Friday, a preliminary vote among member states’ non-ministerial representatives was called off due to several member states indicating a lack of support for the law in its current form.

On foot of that decisions on Friday, the ‘official’ vote on the law by ministers today was also postponed, with no date fixed for another vote.

Despite no vote taking place, the law nonetheless came up for discussion at today’s environment ministers meeting under “any other businesses” rather than as a specific agenda item.

This gave member states the opportunity to comment on the current state of play on the Nature Restoration Law.

The Council of the EU votes by qualified majority, meaning that, rather than a simple majority being required, 15 (or in some case 20) member states have to be in agreement, and those countries have to account for 65% of the EU’s population.

The combination of countries that had indicated they would vote no to the law and countries that indicated they would abstain from voting meant this qualified majority would not be met.

A number of speakers today – including Minister for Climate, Environment and Communications Eamon Ryan – expressed frustration that the law has hit this hurdle.

These views were echoed by European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius. The commission originally proposed the law in June 2022, which was followed by 18 months of debate within and between the EU institutions.

Other member states expressed opposition to the law, with the representative for Hungary saying: “The regulation does not ensure the necessary flexibility for member states for its implementation.”

The Hungarian representative also said that the council’s position on the law had always been “fragile”, and that the council should seek “widely-supported compromise”.

The Italian representative also expressed misgivings on the law, saying: “The final agreement which emerged from the trilogue is something which is not satisfactory in our opinion.

“We need to protect the agriculture sector, we cannot accept further burdens on the faming sector and we cannot ignore the situation in the farming sector,” the Italian representative said.

“We need to think about things. We need to take the necessary time to think things over. I don’t think we should do things in a rush. We have to do things properly,” she added.

Belgium currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, with its term ending on June 30. This means that its ministers (or there representatives) chair each of the ministerial meetings of the council.

The Belgian chairperson of today’s meeting said that it is “not the end of the road” for the law.

“Let me reassure you that the (Belgian) presidency will act in the coming weeks, together with each of you to try and move things forward,” he added.

“Our mandate is to try and conclude on files…and we will continue to work in this direction. Our objective would be to try and get this file through under our presidency, and we would count on you to do your utmost so we can achieve this,” the Belgian representative told his council colleagues.

In Ireland, the Green Party has reacted angrily, claiming that the law is “faltering” due to “a campaign of misinformation from right-wing and populist groups”.

In a statement following the meeting, Minister Ryan said: “At home, the Nature Restoration Law has been comprehensively endorsed by the Irish Government, the Dáil and Irish MEPs… Following a lengthy trialogue process, the parliament voted in favour of the final text just a few weeks ago. It’s now up to us in the Council of Ministers to do the same.”

The Green Party said that Ireland “will continue the fight for the Nature Restoration Law”.