Angry farmers: the 27 validate the CAP review, clashes and return of tractors to Brussels

The exchanges around the CAP did not prevent protesters and police from clashing in the streets of Brussels. Abandonment of mandatory fallows, hedges, controls… The Twenty-seven approved on Tuesday a review of the Common Agricultural Policy that unravels its environmental standards, while discussing ways to increase farmers’ incomes.

Much to the dismay of environmental NGOs, the European Commission proposed in mid-March to relax, or even eliminate, part of the “green” criteria that the new CAP imposes on agricultural holdings from 2023. Demanded by the States in the face of the agricultural anger that hits the continent, these legislative revisions were ratified without substantial changes by the representatives of the Twenty-seven and will now be urgently examined by MEPs.

The issue was also discussed during the Agriculture Ministers meeting on Tuesday in Brussels, while some 250 tractors, according to the police, gathered in the European district, following previous mobilizations in February. Horns, eggs thrown, hay or tire fires, but also confrontations: a man was arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails and two police officers were injured, according to the police, who used tear gas and water cannons.

Germany’s reluctance

“We have not forgotten the farmers! “We are attacking the CAP to offer more flexibility, responses that increase its revenue,” declared the Belgian minister, David Clarinval. Brussels proposes to completely eliminate the obligation to leave at least 4% of arable land fallow or non-productive. This requirement was one of the ecological constraints that agricultural organizations considered impractical.

The obligation to rotate crops would be replaced by simple “diversification”, the maintenance of permanent grasslands would be considerably relaxed and, in the event of extreme weather events, exemptions would be possible to avoid penalties. Finally, farms of less than 10 hectares would be exempt from controls linked to environmental standards.

So many measures approved by a qualified majority of States, despite Germany’s reluctance. “It is not with old recipes that we will obtain better results. We must avoid the trap of thinking that by endangering crops in 10, 20 or 50 years, we are doing farmers a favor,” said the German minister, environmentalist Cem Özdemir.

“The concern was to declare things that do not materialize in the corrals: we must ensure that these proposals are polished and clarified,” particularly in the grasslands, “but this package, as proposed, is going in the right direction,” said the French Minister Marc Fesneau. . Copa-Cogeca, the organization of the European majority agricultural unions, also welcomed “greater flexibility, taking into account local specificities.”

“Backwards”

On the contrary, 16 environmental NGOs, including WWF, Greenpeace and ClientEarth, asked the Commission on Monday to “withdraw its legislative proposal”, a “step backwards” that will likely degrade ecosystems. They say they are “dismayed” by its development “in less than three weeks (…) without an impact study or meaningful consultations” that go against EU rules.

Another project: guarantee “fair” prices to farmers in the agri-food chain in the face of pressure from processors and distributors. The European Commission has unveiled a “roadmap” that proposes the creation of an “observatory” of producer prices and an evaluation of existing rules on unfair commercial practices, without new legislative proposals for the moment. In “echo” of the French Egalim standards, “the Commission opens for the first time this issue of remuneration at the European level. We must continue working, but let’s not ask to resolve in 15 days what has been dragging on for 20 or 25 years,” commented Marc Fesneau.

It is not enough to convince the protesting farmers of the Walloon union Fugea, who denounce “insufficient proposals to address the root causes” of agricultural unrest and demand “the end of free trade agreements” considered unfair. “We still do not see any proposal to solve this problem of imports from third countries at similar or lower prices, but which do not respect our high standards in terms of the environment and animal welfare,” acknowledges Latvian Minister Armands Krauze.

Another sensitive issue: the recent agreement to renew the exemption from customs duties that Ukraine enjoys, while limiting certain agricultural products. It will be examined on Wednesday by the ambassadors of the Twenty-seven, some States, including France, which demand that this limit be extended to wheat.

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