In a new pledge given to farmers, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday delivered the final blow to a legislative project, already blocked by MEPs, aimed at reducing the use of pesticides. A key element of the “Green Deal”, this text proposed in June 2022 by Brussels provided for binding objectives to halve the use and risks of chemical phytosanitary products in the EU by 2030 compared to the period 2015- 2017.
The proposal “has become a symbol of polarization,” lamented Ursula von der Leyen before the European Parliament in Strasbourg (France), while angry farmers have been denouncing ecological standards deemed excessive for weeks. This text “was rejected by Parliament, there is no further progress in the Council (member states). I will propose to the college (of commissioners) to withdraw this proposal,” she declared.
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“The subject remains topical” but “to move forward, more dialogue and a different approach are necessary. The Commission could make a new, much more mature proposal, with the participation of stakeholders,” added Ursula von der Leyen, without any indication of timetable. “Farmers need economic reasons to adopt nature protection measures, perhaps we have not presented these reasons convincingly to them,” she regretted.
Copa-Cogeca, representing the majority agricultural organizations at European level, criticized “a pure ideological text, poorly calibrated, unrealistic and unfunded”. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, welcomed the withdrawal announcement: "It is crucial to keep farmers on our side for a more sustainable future of agriculture, the dialogue continues,” he said.
The European Parliament rejected the pesticide proposal at the end of November, after amendments from PPE (right) elected officials largely emptying it of its substance to spare the agricultural world from constraints considered untenable. An extremely rare blockage which contributed to burying it de facto a few months before the European elections of June 2024, while the EU “Green Deal” appears as a scarecrow.
Theoretically, the Ministers of Agriculture could continue to debate the text, but in practice the negotiations between the Twenty-Seven were permanently bogged down, with several States expressing alarm at the impact on yields and food sovereignty. “This text provided for reductions (in production), it was not sensible. Thanks in particular to our work, this proposal has been swept aside,” reacted the leader of the EPP, German elected official Manfred Weber, from the same camp as Ursula von der Leyen.
“We will remain the farmers’ party, we are at your side,” he added, making the right a key argument in the elections. The withdrawal comes a few hours before the announcement of a roadmap where Brussels will recommend a climate objective for 2040, which should relatively spare agriculture (11% of European greenhouse gas emissions).
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Faced with tractor parades and highway blockages in the EU, Brussels is stepping up its actions towards farmers. The Commission proposed last week to grant a partial exemption from fallow obligations and to limit Ukrainian agricultural imports, two major reasons for the protest, while promising a “simplification” of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
She also recognized that the conditions were “not met” to conclude the trade agreement with the South American Mercosur countries, a red line for farmers and certain states. Already last year, Brussels had given up proposing a text on nutritional labeling which upset the agri-food sector.
Ursula von der Leyen once again assured on Tuesday that she was aware of the agricultural malaise: faced with the effects of climate change and the Ukrainian conflict, “many farmers feel cornered (..) They deserve to be listened to”. “We must go beyond a polarized debate, establish trust (...) We must avoid blaming each other, and seek solutions to problems together,” insisted the woman who could run for her own succession after the June elections.