The protests of farmers in several European countries and, above all, the fear of a populism which feeds on mobilization and cries against European regulations, as well as the pressure from conservatives, who fear losing ground to the far right, push the European Union. reduce its ambition in the green transition. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Tuesday that she was placing regulations on the reduction of pesticides, one of the key formulas of the Green Deal, in another concession to farmers, and a reorientation of aid for sector as an “incentive” to the green transition. It’s another step by Brussels in its effort to slow down environmental policies that industry and other sectors denounce as moving too fast. “The problems have intensified in recent years, our farmers deserve to be heard,” added the head of the Community Executive during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where she opened the door to new subsidies for the campaigns. Meanwhile, in Spain, farmers’ protests are collapsing roads in several provinces, as before in France.
Brussels, like the rest of the EU, is mobilizing to try to avoid discontent in the countryside a few months before the key elections for the future of Europe (the European Parliament elections take place in June), while that the far right is advancing in elections, polls and Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, which has sent energy prices tumbling and inflation rising, are two years old .
Von der Leyen, who met on Thursday, after the special summit devoted to the community budget and support for Ukraine, a group of protesting farmers in Brussels, joined European leaders who, like the Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, chant A mea culpa and they claim that they have not listened to a small sector – 2% of the population, which generates 1.4% of the EU’s GDP – but a very influential sector which sets the agenda. This Tuesday, while Von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, spoke to MEPs, a group of farmers also demonstrated in Strasbourg.
“Farmers need a valid business case to adopt measures that improve nature,” Von der Leyen said in Strasbourg. “We need a real incentive that goes beyond the simple loss of performance. Public subsidies can provide such incentives,” he added. For the new subsidies or “incentives” for campaigns that Von der Leyen alluded to without giving further details, Brussels does not have much room. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is closed until 2027 (400 billion), but the door can be opened to changes and redirect aid to rural development and transform the funds with which the sector is supported in situations of crisis. emergency (like drought or hail) into something more structured. It could also open its hand to authorizing grants at the national level.
The head of the Community Executive will also ask the commissioners to abandon the pesticide reduction regulation (called SUR) which she proposed in July 2022, as part of the European Green Deal, and which includes targets for reducing their use and risks in 50% by 2030. A regulation blocked in negotiation and which had been rejected by the plenary session of the European Parliament after pressure from conservatives and several member states. “The SUR proposal has become a symbol of polarization,” said Von der Leyen, who already announced on Friday new measures aimed at reducing administrative burdens on the agricultural sector, one of the sector’s long-standing complaints, and assured shortly before they would repeal the requirement for a minimum percentage of fallow. Brussels will make a new “more mature” proposal on pesticides, announced Von der Leyen. For now, he is buying time and trying to calm the discontent of the countryside.
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Von der Leyen, who took the helm on environmental policies and clashed with her own political family, the European People’s Party (EPP), over her reforms, is now beginning to retrace part of her path. “The coming months will not be easy,” admitted the German conservative. This Tuesday, the Community Executive will present its recommendation to the Twenty-Seven so that the EU as a whole reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040 compared to 1990. A guide which, like EL PAÍS argued, marks the path towards climate neutrality in 2050, but which is less ambitious than expected and does not include specific requirements for the agricultural sector, which can be read as a new concession or, at least, as a way of not approaching the subject with the hot ground for mobilizations.
Von der Leyen is expected to announce in a few days that she will seek a second term at the head of the new Commission which will emerge after the European elections in June and the German conservative now wants to retain the support of her political party. , for whom the agricultural sector is an important voting niche.
No party wants to lose the support of the influential agricultural sector and, like Macron (the protests gained momentum in France and spread to several countries), who attacked the CAP and the regulations in force even if, like the others, he supported them barely two years ago, everyone now claims to understand and support the unrest. “As the European People’s Party, we are the party of farmers, and many are now trying to take on this role for themselves,” said the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, who added that his party was the first to appear listens to the rural sector and took the opportunity to attack the law for the restoration of nature, approved at the end of last year, weakened precisely because of pressure from the right.
Iratxe García, leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, criticized Weber for using rural protests. “It is not acceptable to use the crisis and the suffering of a sector in a partisan and electoral way; we must solve the problems together,” he said.
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