29th Sep 2023

EU chief links farming with climate to appease centre-right

  • EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen pledge to work together with farmers - in response to critics from her own centre-right party in the European Parliament (Photo: European Parliament)
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European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced "a strategic dialogue" on the future of agriculture in the EU — in response to the wave of criticism led by her own centre-right party in the European Parliament against some green policies.

In an unusual manner, von der Leyen used her state of the union speech on Wednesday (13 September) to make a direct mention of farmers in Europe, thanking them for providing Europeans with food everyday.

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  • In recent months, the European People’s Party (EPP) has portrayed itself as the champion of farmers and rural interests (Photo: European Parliament)

Food production, she said, is "not always an easy task" — especially given the consequences of the war, new obligations, and climate change, which has brought an unprecedented number of droughts, forest fires and floods. "We must bear that in mind."

She acknowledged that many farmers are already working hard towards more sustainable agriculture. "We must work together with the men and women in farming to tackle these new challenges".

Her remarks come after five Eastern European countries — Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria —restricted grain imports from Ukraine starting last spring over price crashes in domestic markets.

Following attacks from the European People's Party (EPP) on the nature restoration law, a flagship policy aimed at halting biodiversity loss, von der Leyen reminded MEPs that "biodiversity and ecosystem services are vital for all of us in Europe." "We must protect it [nature]."

But shortly after she followed EPP's narrative, arguing that, "food security … remains an essential task".

"We need more dialogue and less polarisation," von der Leyen told MEPs, pointing out that agriculture and the protection of the climate should go hand in hand. "We need both."

In recent months, EPP has portrayed itself as the champion of farmers and rural interests, ahead of next year's European elections, leading a pushback against the EU's green agenda.

This has been translating into increasing criticism and opposition not only against the nature restoration law but also against the proposal to reduce pesticides.

Conservative lawmakers have argued that new rules aimed at making the EU's agricultural model more sustainable are putting a high burden on farmers, playing into the rise of populism in member states and putting food security at risk.

"Producing more food, not less, is our answer to cut inflation on food prices," said German conservative Manfred Weber, the leader of her EPP group. "The EPP is [the] farmers' party, and we are the party of the rural areas."

For his part, Belgian Greens MEP Phillip Lamberts urged von der Leyen to "stand firm" in her fight against climate change.

"We are not above nature. Humanity is part of nature. Whether we like it or not, there are limits to what our planet can take and what it can give. Respecting those limits is not the Greens' hobbyhorse. It is a question of survival," he said.

Meanwhile, campaigners have raised concerns over the fate of the Farm to Fork policy, arguing that the EU's unsustainable agricultural model is a major contributor to climate change.

"We can no longer accept that the future of the EU Green Deal and the much-needed transition towards sustainable food systems depends on political parties' agenda and private vested interests," said Madeleine Coste, a campaigner from NGO Slow Food.

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