On 10 April, the European Parliament adopted in plenary its negotiating position on the Soil Monitoring Law, officially the Soil Monitoring and Resilience Directive, with 336 votes in favour. The proposed law, one of the EU’s flagship initiatives on soil health, now awaits the negotiating position of the European Council. If approved by both institutions, this will be the first Union-wide law on soil health and the main European legal instrument to upgrade soil monitoring.

Approval in the European Parliament represents an important albeit small step in the direction of soil preservation and protection from pollution. In its present form, the law mandates that Member States establish soil districts and appoint competent authorities for each district. These soil districts would serve as a geographical basis for additional monitoring. Soil health assessments, to be conducted every five years, must adhere to specified parameters such as, inter alia, soil type, climatic conditions and land use. Additionally, mechanisms for voluntary soil health certification for landowners and managers are to be set up, and areas with unhealthy soils within each soil district will be disclosed to the public.

Member States are required to specify positive and negative soil management practices within four years. These practices must be in line with other European and national legislation, such as nature restoration plans, CAP strategic plans, and national energy and climate plans. The draft law also includes a mandatory timeline for all Member States to improve the present situation of European soils. Soils presently classified as “critically damaged” must improve to at least “damaged” in ten years, while those classified as “damaged” have six years to be improved to “moderate”, and those regarded as “moderate” must be improved to “good” within six years. These commitments, not present in the original Commission proposal, are an important win for European soils, but far more needs to be done.

Overall, the text is far less ambitious than it should have been. It does not establish mandatory national plans for soil restoration, nor does it set any binding soil restoration targets for Member States. Although more wide-ranging than the original proposal, the Soil Monitoring Law showcases how the environment tends to be the biggest loser in the complex game of EU compromise-making. Nevertheless, the law is the first piece of Union-wide legislation on soil monitoring and restoration and, as such, it is a step forward. We expect it to be followed by many other, bolder, steps forward, for the sake of our soils and the preservation of biodiversity.

More information is available at https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20240408IPR20304/soil-health-parliament-sets-out-measures-to-achieve-healthy-soils-by-2050.