The same applies in Brussels: the tractors appear, so the green plans disappear

The same applies in Brussels: the tractors appear, so the green plans disappear
The same applies in Brussels: the tractors appear, so the green plans disappear

Even before the tractors had reached Brussels, the outreach had already been made. And while they drove through the European Quarter a day later, honking their horns, some more gestures followed.

On Wednesday, the European Commission presented measures that meet some of the demands of European farmers, who are protesting in more and more countries. On Thursday, after a summit with government leaders that was actually about Ukraine, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised the farmers extensively and announced that they would come up with measures to reduce their administrative burden.

“Farmers play an essential role in the European economy and society,” said Von der Leyen. “Their work contributes greatly to our food security and our way of life.” A few rooms away, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of a “historic moment”: the existing agricultural policy must be overhauled, farmers’ incomes must be better protected and the “ecology of common sense” must return.

The protest could hardly have come at a worse time for European politicians. Four months before the elections for the European Parliament, polls predict a significant gain by right-wing radical parties. They are precisely angling for the support of angry farmers and trying to portray this as an expression of a broader protest against Europe and the green regulatory burden.

For example, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – who rescinded his threat to block an aid package for Ukraine on Thursday, but already did so had recorded in the streets of Brussels. “The voice of the people is not heard by European politicians,” Orbán said, standing near tractors. A Brussels think tank funded by its government already organized its own protest action last week, followed by a debate where farmer representatives sat at the table with right-wing radical politicians.

Transition crossed

The polls partly explain why politicians are rushing to accommodate farmers with ad hoc measures. Von der Leyen in particular is under pressure. She is expected to soon take office as the leader of the European Christian Democrats for a new term as Commission President, but there has been great resentment in that party about her green profile. This week, the European Commission deleted, among other things, a rule intended to stimulate biodiversity and presented a restriction on imports from Ukraine that had been simplified out of solidarity.

Four years later, little is left of the European sustainability strategy

It is nothing new that farmers’ voices are being listened to carefully in Brussels. The agro-industry lobby is traditionally strong and agricultural policy has been one of the pillars of the European Union for decades. A third of the EU budget still goes to agricultural subsidies, partly because food security is seen as a crucial European interest. Large farmers in particular benefit from this: roughly 80 percent of the subsidy goes to 20 percent of the farms.

The environment became more important

But in recent years, Brussels has also seen a transition. Nature and the environment became more important, at the expense of powerful agricultural interests. With a special sustainability strategy, the Commission wanted to bring agriculture in line with the new climate and nature goals by 2020. The agricultural sector is responsible for about 10 percent of European greenhouse emissions, but because emissions in other sectors are falling rapidly, this share may increase. According to experts, intensive agriculture also plays a major role in the dramatic decline in biodiversity.

A cautious start was also made on reforming agricultural funds. Subsidies should no longer only stimulate maximum food production, but also reward farmers for protecting nature and the environment. “Isn’t it time,” said then Commissioner Timmermans (Climate) in April, “to prove that a way of farming is possible that does not have to become increasingly intensive to generate a decent income for farmers?”

Climate goals

Four years later, little is left of the sustainability strategy: in November a law to reduce pesticides was passed, a law to make the food chain more sustainable was never introduced, a soil health law was severely weakened and this week the requirement to leave a piece of land fallow was also suspended. to be left aside for nature management.

And when Von der Leyen praised the farmers on Thursday as “very dynamic”, what she pointed out was that their production increased by 13 percent in 2022 and that European exports of agricultural products increased by 5 percent. Exactly the classic focus on ‘more and more’ that Brussels seemed to want to move away from.

Next week, the Commission will present a new climate target for 2040. A leaked document showed that it once again emphasizes that transforming the agricultural sector is crucial, as are changing “consumer food choices” and “better reflecting the price of agricultural emissions ” in the final product. Climate neutrality in 2050 remains a “common goal”, says Von der Leyen, but also that this must be done “together with the farmers”. How? It is now as clear to Brussels as it is in The Hague that it is difficult to initiate a transition when the tractors are at the door.

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The article is in Dutch

Tags: applies Brussels tractors green plans disappear


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