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Faced with agricultural anger, Brussels buries a law reducing pesticides

Photo: Frederick Florin Agence France-Presse “Moving forward requires more dialogue and a different approach. The [European] Commission could make a new, much more mature proposal, with the participation of stakeholders,” Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday, without indicating a timetable.

Marc Burleigh – Agence France-Presse and Julien Girault – Agence France-Presse in Strasbourg and Brussels

10:14 a.m.

  • Europe

In a new pledge given to farmers, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, delivered the final blow on Tuesday 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 mid-2022 by Brussels provided for binding objectives to halve the use and risks of chemical phytosanitary products in the European Union by 2030 (EU) compared to the years 2015-2017.

“It has become a symbol of polarization,” Ms. von der Leyen lamented in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg (France), while angry farmers have been denouncing excessive ecological standards for weeks.

“Moving forward requires more dialogue and a different approach. The Commission could make a new, much more mature proposal, with the participation of stakeholders,” she added, without giving a timetable.

“Farmers need economic reasons to adopt nature protection measures, perhaps we have not presented these reasons convincingly,” regretted Mrs von der Leyen.

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COPA-COGECA, an organization bringing together the majority agricultural unions at European level, criticized “a pure ideological text, poorly calibrated, unrealistic and unfunded”.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, welcomed the withdrawal. “It is crucial to keep farmers on our side for a more sustainable future of agriculture, the dialogue continues,” he said.

“Long live the farmers, whose tractors are forcing Europe to reverse the madness” that is “imposed on them,” added Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.

“Missed opportunity”

The European Parliament rejected the proposal on pesticides at the end of November, after amendments from elected representatives of the European People's Party (EPP, right) largely emptying it of its substance to avoid constraints on the agricultural world considered to be 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's “Green Deal” appears as a scarecrow.

Theoretically, the Ministers of Agriculture could continue to debate the text, but the negotiations between the Twenty-Seven were permanently bogged down, with several States expressing alarm at the impact on yields and food sovereignty .

“Decreases [in production] were planned, it was not sensible. Thanks in particular to our work, this proposal has been swept away,” 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.

Pascal Canfin, president (Renew, Liberals) of the parliamentary Environment committee, deplored “an error, a missed opportunity”. “We were about to rework this text in depth,” he assured.

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).

“Polarized debate”

Faced with tractor parades, Brussels is increasing its gestures towards farmers.

The European Commission proposed last week a partial exemption from fallow obligations and a limitation on Ukrainian imports, two major reasons for the protest, while promising to “simplify” 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 was upsetting 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, build trust. […] We must avoid blaming each other, and seek solutions together,” insisted the woman who could run for her own succession after the elections.

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