Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

EU launches agri-food dialogue, amid farmer revolts

  • Against the backdrop of widespread roadblocks and street protests across the 27-nations bloc, one thing is clear: European farmers are unhappy (Photo: Rossen Kalpachki, Trud Daily, Bulgaria)
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Farmers' protests and climate change have moved agriculture into the political spotlight, making it one of the hot topics for the upcoming EU elections.

In response to increased divisions and polarisation, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen launched this week "a strategic dialogue" on the future of agriculture in the EU.

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The initiative, initially previewed in September during her annual state of the union address, was seen as a way to appease criticism — led by her own centre-right European People's Party party in the European Parliament — against some EU green policies.

Despite this, von der Leyen has argued that the dialogue provides an opportunity to find solutions to "shape" and "preserve" an essential sector of the EU's economy.

A diverse group of 30 organiwations, including major agri-food lobbyists, NGOs and academics, will discuss how to enhance farmers' living standards, attract future generations to agriculture, promote sustainability, optimise technology, and ensure Europe's competitiveness in the food system.

A report is expected by the end of August or early September.

To moderate the debate, von der Leyen has appointed German professor Peter Strohschneider, who previously chaired Germany's commission for the future of agriculture, formed in July 2020 during chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

Although there are high expectations for what will come out of this novel exercise, it remains to be seen how recommendations from the strategic dialogue will be incorporated into the next commission's mandate.

People close to the dialogue admitted to journalists on Thursday (25 January) that the impact of such recommendations is often "indirect".

The launch of the strategic dialogue comes amid growing tension in many member states, with concerns about the far-right hijacking the situation as the June elections loom.

Faustine Bas-Defossez from the European Environmental Bureau, which is one of the participants in the strategic dialogue, raised concern about the piggybacking of farmers' protests by far-right parties, noting an increasing divide between anti- and pro-European sentiments, particularly in the context of environmental policies.

"We are worried about recent polls that indicate a rise in anti-EU populism, with radical right-wing parties expected to lead in countries like France, Poland and Austria, and the instrumentalisation by these parties of farmers protests," she told EUobserver.

Against the backdrop of widespread roadblocks and street protests all across the 27-nations bloc, one thing is clear: European farmers are unhappy.

Protests in Germany revolve around cuts in fuel subsidies while French farmers are urgently seeking subsidies and compensation for climate-related disasters. Yet, farmers in Poland and Romania demand more restrictions on Ukraine exports.

Farmers' demands include a call for a decent income, a review of agreements with Ukraine, the rejection of the Mercosur trade agreement, a change in the status of wild wolves, and the recognition of the strategic role of agriculture, according to Christiane Lambert, the president of the lobby Copa, also a participant in the strategic dialogue.

In recent years, the farming and food sector has been affected by the pandemic, the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine — which has increased costs of production for farmers who are facing increasing regulations and administrative burdens. Simultaneously, climate change has increased the risks of floods and droughts, undermining the industry.

Simultaenously, there is a widespread understanding that it is paramount to reduce emissions from the agriculture, as EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra acknowledged last year this is "very sensitive in many member states".

Agriculture is responsible for about 10 percent of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions.

EU chief links farming with climate to appease centre-right

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced "a strategic dialogue" on the future of EU agriculture — in response to the wave of criticism led by her own centre-right party in the European Parliament against some green policies.

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