24th June 2024
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EU scraps pesticide proposal, as farmers continue to protest

The European Commission shelved an anti-pesticide proposal on Tuesday in yet another concession to farmers after weeks of protests that blocked many 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. Despite concessions, protests continued from the Netherlands to Spain and Bulgaria.

Farmers have insisted that measures like the one on pesticides would 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.

The pesticide ‘proposal has become a symbol of polarisation,’ von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. ‘To move forward, more dialogue and a different approach is needed.’

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

‘Many farmers feel pushed into a corner,’ von der Leyen said, adding: ‘Our farmers deserve to be listened to.’

At the same time, though, she emphasised that European agriculture ‘needs to move to a more sustainable model of production’ that was more environmentally friendly and less harmful to soil quality.

‘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 weeks.

With far-right and anti-establishment parties – which are predicted to make significant gains in June’s elections — latching onto the farmers’ movement, the environment debate has turned politically explosive.

Last week, 1,300 tractors clogged the area around an EU summit in Brussels, forcing their revolt to the top of the leaders’ agenda and resulting in a number of other concessions, especially in France.

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 was 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.

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

The European Commission was set to announce more measures late on Tuesday on how to reach its stringent targets to counter climate change. Environmentalists fear there could be more concessions there, too.

n 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 on Tuesday, farmers across Spain staged tractor protests, blocking highways and causing traffic jams to demand changes in EU policies and funds, as well as 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 added fuel to their protests by moving their heavy farming vehicles from the fields to the main motorways and border crossings, paralysing traffic and adding to the economic woes of the country. The move came 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 highways with their tractors and burned hay bales and tyres.

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