Fuss about statements by Belgian Prime Minister against nature restoration

Statements by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo have sparked controversy in the Belgian political system because the national Prime Minister has spoken out in favor of “putting European environmental laws on hold”.

De Croo (Open VLD) said on Tuesday evening in the television program 'Terzake' of the VRT: “We have to make a choice”, and then criticized the European Nature Restoration Act that is being prepared.

In the Belgian parliamentary system, the national government only deals with major issues such as Defense and Foreign Policy, but most politically sensitive policy choices are placed with the governments of Flanders and Wallonia. The Prime Minister's statement does bring him in line with the Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir (NVA), who on Tuesday called for a "reality check" or even a "pause" on new climate plans. 

The remarks of De Croo and Demir are very similar to those of French President Macron, who made statements about European environmental policy at an industry conference two weeks ago. Those rulings were initially interpreted as a plea for a brake on the three major environmental laws now under consideration in the EU.

But the French presidential palace later downplayed that, saying the president meant that he thinks the EU is already far enough ahead in environmental and climate policy.

Belgian Liberal Prime Minister Croo did show support for the EU environmental targets in the Green Deal, such as reducing greenhouse gases, but he was hesitant about further efforts to protect biodiversity: “We must avoid overcrowding the cart.. De Croo said he fears that the European industry "can no longer cope with the regulations", 

But the green parties in the federal government (Flemish Green and French-speaking Ecolo) were less understanding of the prime minister's fears. they called the statements outrageous and said he was not speaking on behalf of the national government.

“European agreements are not just a piece of paper. The prime minister places himself in the camp of the climate procrastinators," say Greens party leaders. They emphasized that nature and climate go hand in hand and urged acceleration instead of slowing down. Earlier, National Climate Minister Zakia Khattabi urged the immediate implementation of the Nature Restoration Act. She criticized De Croo's comments as "not the federal point of view, nor the Belgian point of view".

The nature restoration bill is under fire in the European Parliament from the agri-agricultural committee as well as from the centre-right and conservative groups. They reject the proposal. The intention is that the envi environment committee will decide on 15 June whether the current proposal is good enough for final discussion in a so-called trilogue, the decisive three-party negotiation on legislative proposals from the European Commission.

At the beginning of this week, Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans called on both the MEPs in the Agriculture Committee and the Envi Committee to come out of their trenches and come to the negotiating table.