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Angry European farmers

Photo: Guillaume Souvant Agence France-Presse An aerial view shows tractors positioned to read “STOP!” during a farmers' demonstration, in Maille, central France, on January 23, 2024.

Julien Girault – Agence France-Presse in Brussels

4:17 p.m.

  • Europe

Imports from Ukraine, fuel, ecological standards… A few months before the June elections, European Ministers of Agriculture are calling for a response to anger with very diverse causes, before the launch by Brussels of a “strategic dialogue” with still unclear contours.

“The anger of farmers is multifactorial, it is not necessarily for the same reasons that they demonstrate from one country to another”, but on a European scale, their concerns “must be better taken into account,” warned Belgian Minister David Clarinval, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU).

Meeting in Brussels, the ministers of the Twenty-Seven welcomed the organization on Thursday of a first session of the “strategic dialogue” proposed by the European Commission, which will bring together agricultural organizations, the agri-food sector, NGOs and experts.

Confirmed only last week, the initiative was promised in September by the president of the European executive, Ursula von der Leyen, who called for “less polarization” around the Green Deal, a vast package environmental legislation.

“Welcome initiative, but late,” said Copa-Cogeca, the organization of Europe’s majority agricultural unions.

The agricultural issue is explosive before the European elections: “The far right is trying to use farmers as political leverage. We must defend them without political manipulation,” said Spanish Minister Luis Planas, annoyed.

On the program for Thursday: farmer income, sustainability, technological innovation, competitiveness. “Polarization has intensified, it is imperative to define a common vision”, guaranteeing both competitiveness and sustainability, said Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic.

“Participants will decide how far they want to go” with conclusions expected “by September,” he explained.

“Priority to competitiveness”

“This dialogue should have started when the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or the Green Deal were presented,” says Luis Planas. But it’s never too late if it’s done correctly. The voice of farmers must be heard. »

Beyond the immediate problems, it is a question of preparing the ground for the next post-2028 CAP, he believes.

If the recent demonstrations evoke various national factors (taxation of diesel in Germany, for example), the tremors have multiplied everywhere: extreme climatic episodes, avian flu, surge in energy prices…

Another divisive subject: the influx of Ukrainian agricultural products into the EU since the lifting of customs duties in 2022. Brussels was to present its proposals to the Twenty-Seven on Tuesday for a renewal in June, with probable “backup” mechanisms.

Beyond Polish and Romanian farmers, agricultural organizations are calling for these imports (cereals, poultry, sugar, etc.) to be restricted, accused of lowering prices – echoing recurring criticism of EU free trade agreements.

Above all, there is a common “exasperation” in the face of “regulatory overheating”, believes Christiane Lambert, president of Copa.

First item in the European budget, the new CAP, which came into force in 2023, reinforced environmental obligations (diversity, fallow land, hedges, etc.) while inflation ate away at its envelope.

“We must create more flexibility in the face of climatic or economic challenges” and “give priority to competitiveness” by “simplifying standards”, insisted Romanian Minister Florin Barbu, recalling having demanded in vain the continuation of exemptions on fallow land.

“Regulatory machine”

Copa-Cogeca denounces the “regulatory machine”, even if the texts setting out the Green Deal (“farm to fork” strategy) are essentially not in force.

In its sights: the “nature restoration” law promoting the repair of degraded ecosystems, although largely watered down after a violent battle led by the right in the European Parliament.

Another text regulating polluting emissions from large livestock farms will spare cattle farms, but will concern pigs and poultry. MEPs, however, rejected legislation reducing the use of pesticides.

Faced with growing resistance from farmers — and conservative elected officials — the Commission has given assurances, proposing to relax the protection of wolves and abandoning a nutritional labeling project.

The EPP (right), the first group in the European Parliament, worked to radically water down the agricultural texts, accusing Brussels of not adapting its green ambitions to the economic situation.

In the center and on the left, we are instead calling for strengthening financial support for farmers – especially as the EU is preparing to launch the debate on its 2040 climate objective, which would involve painful decarbonization of the agricultural world (11% of European greenhouse gas emissions).

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116