06 February 2024

EU scraps pesticide proposals in another concession to protesting farmers

06 February 2024

The European Union’s executive arm has shelved an anti-pesticides proposal in yet another concession to farmers after weeks of protests blocked major capitals and economic lifelines across the 27-nation bloc.

Although the proposal had languished in EU institutions for the past two years, the move by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was the latest indication that the bloc is willing to sacrifice environmental priorities to keep the farming community on its side.

Farmers have insisted that measures such as the one on pesticides would only increase bureaucratic burdens and keep them behind laptops instead of farming, adding to the price gap between their products and cheap imports produced by foreign farmers without similar burdens.

Ms von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that the pesticides proposal “has become a symbol of polarisation”, adding: “To move forward, more dialogue and a different approach is needed.”

She acknowledged that the proposals had been made over the heads of farmers.

“Farmers need a worthwhile business case for nature-enhancing measures. Perhaps we have not made that case convincingly,” she said.

It is unclear when new proposals will be drafted. EU parliamentary elections are set for June, and the plight of farmers has become a focal point of campaigning, even pushing climate issues aside over the past few weeks.

Under its much-hyped European Green Deal, the EU has targeted a 50% cut in the overall use of pesticides and other hazardous substances by 2030.

The proposal was criticised both by environmentalists who claimed it would be insufficient to reach sustainability targets, and by agriculture groups who insisted it would be unworkable and drive farmers out of business.

The decision to shelve the proposal on pesticides represented the EU’s latest act of political self-retribution in reaction to protests that have affected the daily lives of tens of millions of EU citizens and cost businesses tens of millions of euros due to transportation delays.

Many politicians, especially on the right and its fringes, applauded the impact of the protests.

“Long live the farmers, whose tractors are forcing Europe to take back the nonsense imposed by multinationals and the left,” said Italy’s right-wing transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Last week, Ms von der Leyen announced plans to shield farmers from cheaper products exported from wartime Ukraine and to allow farmers to use some land they had been required to keep fallow for environmental reasons.

In France, where the protests gained critical mass, the government promised more than 400 million euros in additional financial support.

Meanwhile, protests continued in many EU nations.

Since early Tuesday morning, farmers across Spain have staged tractor protests, blocking roads and causing traffic jams to demand changes in EU policies and funds and measures to combat production cost increases.

The protests came as the Agriculture Ministry announced some 270 million euros in aid to 140,000 farmers to address drought conditions and problems caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Bulgarian farmers moved their heavy vehicles from the fields to the main motorways and border crossings, paralysing traffic, after farmers refused to accept proposed government support, arguing that it was not sufficient to compensate them for losses due to the war in Ukraine, higher production costs, climate conditions and Green Deal requirements.

On Monday night, farmers in the Netherlands blocked several roads and motorways with their tractors and set fire to hay bales and tyres.

In recent weeks, farmers have also protested in Poland, Greece, Ireland, Germany and Lithuania.

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