BRUSSELS - The European Commission has offered to scale back some targets in its flagship EU law to protect nature, in a bid to find a deal on the proposed legislation which some lawmakers are attempting to block.
Brussels is on the defensive over its plans to restore Europe's natural habitats - 81% of which are classed as in poor health - after the law drew opposition from some governments and lawmakers.
After weeks of frantic talks following a call by the European People's Party (EPP) - the EU Parliament's biggest lawmaker group - to reject the bill, the Commission has suggested changes to the proposal to attempt to win over sceptics.
In a document sent to EU countries and lawmakers, seen by Reuters on Thursday, Brussels suggested cutting specific targets for countries to increase green space in cities, and letting countries meet a goal to revive dried-out peatlands by doing this on more land that isn't farmed.
"[Restoring nature] is essential for enhancing the productivity and resilience of forest and agricultural land, which is already severely threatened by the growing impacts of climate change in almost all parts of Europe," the document said.
Introducing trees and green spaces to cities can also help lower temperatures during heatwaves and soak up rainwater to avert floods, it added.
The nature law is heading for a knife-edge vote in the European Parliament, where EPP lawmakers argue the bill would harm farmers and take land out of agricultural use.
"It feels like they're asking us to sign a blank cheque," EPP lawmaker Esther de Lange told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the policy's impact on the cost of living was unclear.
The Commission document said some of the targets opposed by the EPP - such as a goal to introduce trees, ponds and other biodiverse features on 10% of farmland - are not binding, and economic activities like farming can still take place in areas where nature is supported.
Billions of euros are available for countries to support farmers in restoring nature, including from the EU's 387 billion euro ($416.99 billion) farming subsidy budget for 2021-2027, it added.
($1 = 0.9281 euros)
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Susan Fenton)