EU Parliament’s position on Soil Legislation falls short on ambition 

Soil degradation stands as a significant threat to ecosystems and their vital functions, such as producing food and biomass, cleaning water, recycling nutrients, storing carbon and providing a habitat for biodiversity. This degradation primarily stems from unsustainable agricultural practices, including excessive fertiliser use, which leads to contamination by heavy metals and nutrient overload, heightened water demands, and insufficient organic matter replenishment in the soil. Hence, the proposal for a Soil Monitoring Law by the European Commission holds significant importance for FER-PLAY partners. 

In July 2023, the European Commission unveiled its proposal for a new Directive on Soil Monitoring and Resilience, also known as the Soil Monitoring Law. This initiative came in response to the alarming state of soil health, with 70% of soils across the EU deemed unhealthy.  The directive aimed to establish a comprehensive soil monitoring framework and set the goal of achieving healthy soils by 2050. However, concerns were raised regarding the absence of obligations for farmers to restore soil health. Critics highlighted the renaming of the directive from the initial ‘Soil Health Law’ to ‘Soil Monitoring Law’ as indicative of a shift in focus towards merely monitoring soil health, rather than actively ensuring its improvement. 

The proposal required Member States to define “sustainable soil management practices” aimed at restoring soil health. These practices were to align with a set of principles listed in Annex III of the proposal, including the following principle: “when fertilisation is applied, ensure adaptation to the needs of the plant and trees at the given location and in the given period, and to the condition of soil and prioritise circular solutions that enrich the organic content. Despite their non-mandatory nature, the inclusion of these practices signalled a positive shift towards circular fertilisers adoption in Europe. 

Following the initial proposal by the Commission, the directive followed the traditional European legislative process. In the EU Parliament, the Soil Monitoring Law was referred to the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). Slovakian Member of Parliament Martin Hojsík, known for his environmental advocacy, led the parliamentary work on the directive. Its preliminary report, published in October 2023, proposed amendments to strengthen soil protection and restoration efforts, introducing obligations to improve soil health within specified timelines and accelerating the definition of sustainable soil management practices. Additionally, a Sustainable Soil Management Toolbox was proposed to facilitate knowledge sharing among Member States. 

However, the final text, voted on in April, faced substantial dilution, with the removal of provisions related to sustainable soil management and soil restoration obligations. This watering down of the directive coincided with recent farmer protests, indicating a possible influence on policymakers’ decisions to lessen regulatory burdens on land managers. 

Moving forward, the Council is expected to adopt its position on the Commission’s proposal in the coming weeks. Following this, negotiations between the Council, Parliament, and Commission will kick off during the next legislature by the end of 2024.

Chronology of the Soil Monitoring Law’s legislative journey

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