The EU’s green reputation is a success

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A farmer hauls rubbish to block the RN 19 near Vesoul, eastern France, on January 25, 2024.

Sebastien Bozon | Afp | Getty Images

The European Union is proud to be a champion for the environment.

But that reputation is now being severely tested, after it scaled back its climate policies in the wake of angry farmer protests taking place across the continent.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is now planning to scrap a plan to halve pesticide use. In addition, the institution last week also decided to leave the agricultural sector out of a strict timeline to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040.

Speaking to CNBC on Thursday, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he was “satisfied” with the U-efforts because they were not “full of opportunity”.

“We need to reduce the use of pesticides, but without forcing the farmers [to do it]”, he said, adding that the solution is to provide more financial subsidies to the sector to encourage them to follow greener practices.

The EU wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. It also wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

When asked if these latest policy changes could harm these ambitious targets, Wojciechowski said: “This is the general target for the whole economy, but in agriculture, we should attention to agricultural details.”

Why are European farmers upset?

Europe’s reassessment of its climate policies comes as the bloc looms ahead of EU parliamentary elections in June, which are expected to bring in more right-wing lawmakers. and edge into Parliament.

“The farmers’ question is set to dominate the electoral contest before the European Parliament in 2024 [elections]being one of the few pan-European issues, on which different parties compete,” Alberto Alemanno, a professor at HEC Paris Business School, told CNBC via email.

“There is no doubt that the next EU political cycle (2024-29) will not be as green as implementing the new green deal. [Europe’s flagship program towards carbon neutrality] and slowing down its next chapters such as extending sustainability requirements to agriculture,” Alemanno also said, adding the recent protests “are just a prelude to more conflicts to come.”

A farmer hauls rubbish to block the RN 19 near Vesoul, eastern France, on January 25, 2024.

Sebastien Bozon | Afp | Getty Images

There have been a number of things that have pushed farmers to protest in recent weeks, causing some damage in capitals such as Paris. These include rising costs, higher debt, competition from cheaper markets and falling retail prices.

For example, the average price of agricultural products received by farmers decreased by 9% in the third quarter of 2023, compared to a year ago.

Luc Vernet, secretary general of the Farm Europe think tank, told CNBC that farmers needed more investment support.

“Farmers no longer have access to cheap money and bankers are far more ignorant of it [lend] money to the agriculture sector. Therefore, we have to think within the European Union about how to deliver the transition, because clearly there is a need to move forward,” he said.

Farmers are at the heart of one of the most important and historic pieces of legislation in the EU: the Common Agricultural Policy, which provides 55 billion euros ($59.3 billion) annually in subsidies to the sector.

The farmer’s protest even crossed the English Channel to the UK at the end of last week. British farmers, with the country no longer in the EU, staged an impromptu tractor demo in the port city of Dover on Friday as they protested against food imports from abroad.

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