Austria’s Climate Minister Backs EU Nature Law Despite Political Uncertainty

Austria’s Climate Minister Backs EU Nature Law Despite Political Uncertainty

Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler (Green Party) will vote for the EU Nature Restoration Law at the meeting of EU Environment Ministers in Luxembourg on Monday. “Hesitating now does not align with my conscience,” said Gewessler on Sunday afternoon at a hastily convened press conference in Vienna. She stated that she did not make this decision lightly but wants to “send a signal of determination and courage.”

“In the decisive moment, I want to do the right thing and not hide,” emphasized the minister. She noted that she could withstand any potential backlash: “When I go for walks with my nieces and nephews in 20 to 30 years, I want to show them the beauty of the country.” When asked by a media representative whether she feared a coalition break with the ÖVP due to her decision, Gewessler replied: “Not at all.” She had backed up her approval with several legal opinions.

Whether the vote will take place tomorrow is “unclear,” said Gewessler. Recently, there had not yet been a qualified majority for the planned EU regulation. “It’s touch and go,” explained Gewessler. The Vice President of the EU Parliament, Othmar Karas (ÖVP), hopes for the EU Environment Ministers’ approval.

On Monday, there is to be a public discussion among the ministers in Luxembourg. Whether there will be a vote afterward will mainly depend on whether the Belgian Council Presidency gets the impression during the discussion that a qualified majority (55 percent of EU countries representing 65 percent of the population) will be reached. For this, one of the countries that have so far abstained or intended to vote against would have to change its mind.

Gewessler, who will represent Austria at the Environment Council in Luxembourg, had previously stated that she supports the EU Nature Restoration Law but had not yet approved it due to the lack of a unified statement from the federal states. After Vienna and Carinthia recently gave up their opposition to the EU law, but the other federal states maintained theirs, constitutional lawyers were unclear whether Gewessler was still bound by the statement. The minister holds the view that with the decision of the Vienna state government on June 11 to support the law, there is no longer a unified position of the states. If there is no unity (of the states, ed.), “there can be no rejection,” said Gewessler at the press conference. She is also not bound to reach an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) said on the sidelines of the Ukraine Peace Conference in Switzerland that there are clear rules. “I assume that the minister will uphold the constitution to which she is sworn.” A Gewessler approval would be “the goal,” but “legally not quite simple,” said Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler (Green Party). He is convinced that the Ministry of Climate Protection will still obtain legal advice, Kogler said in the “Presse” (Sunday edition). “It’s uncharted territory. From my point of view – and the view of various lawyers – there are certainly ways to legally question this blockade of the states.”

Karas, meanwhile, hoped for the EU Environment Ministers’ approval of the Nature Restoration Law on Monday, as he said on Sunday on ORF’s “Press Hour.” Whether Gewessler can also approve it is a question of domestic political competencies, he said.

Karas recalled that the EU Nature Restoration Law had received a majority in the European Parliament. The law is “part of fulfilling our climate goals” and a response to environmental disasters, floods, and landslides. The Nature Restoration Law has radically changed. The EU Commission’s proposal was excessive and bureaucratic, but the EU Parliament has pushed through over 136 amendments. The law has nothing to do with expropriation and the loss of food security, Karas said, addressing the critics’ arguments.

According to a survey by the Market Institute (1,000 online interviews) commissioned by WWF, 82 percent of the population favored Austria’s approval of the EU Nature Restoration Law. “This is a clear mandate to politics. In terms of content, everything has long pointed to Austria’s approval because we are thus securing our common livelihoods in Europe,” said WWF Program Director Hanna Simons ahead of the vote.


Photo: BMK/Cajetan Perwein

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