EU under pressure to defuse farmers' anger

EU under pressure to defuse farmers' anger

From rising fuel costs to anger over green regulations, the farmers' list of grievances is long
From rising fuel costs to anger over green regulations, the farmers' list of grievances is long. Photo: THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP/File
Source: AFP

EU agriculture ministers will discuss on Tuesday how to resolve European farmers' growing discontent as Brussels scrambles to address the issue ahead of elections this year.

Europe's farmers are in revolt. The fury has led to road blockages and tractor parades in the past few weeks, with farmers taking their protests to the street in France, Germany, Poland and Romania, after the Netherlands earlier.

From rising fuel costs to anger over green regulations to what farmers' say is unfair competition from Ukrainian imports, the list of grievances is long.

The agriculture question matters a lot, with surveys showing a surge of the far-right and nationalists -- who take up the issue fervently -- in the June elections.

Keenly aware of this, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in September promised a "strategic dialogue" with farmers, stressing that "agriculture and nature conservation can go hand in hand".

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The initiative formally begins on Thursday.

Powerful agri-group Copa-Cogeca said it was a "welcome initiative, albeit one which has been slow to materialise", adding that "the scope of the discussions remains particularly vague".

The aim of Thursday's meeting will be to address concerns that the green transition will wreak further havoc for farmers.

"The strategic dialogue will address... questions around how can we guarantee a fair standard of living for farmers and rural communities, supporting agriculture within the boundaries of the planet," commission spokesperson Olof Gill said.

Agricultural groups, members of the agri-food sector, non-governmental organisations and experts are also expected to take part.

'Undermining farms'

Farmers have protested over national issues, for example, in Germany over government plans to scrap tax breaks for agriculture.

But they are united by concerns over the increasing challenges facing agriculture, including extreme weather, bird flu and surging fuel costs.

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Then there is the influx of Ukrainian agricultural products into the EU since the lifting of customs duties in 2022. Brussels will decide whether to renew the measure in June.

Agricultural groups call for import limits on Ukrainian products like cereals and sugar, which they say pushes prices further down.

Another bone of contention is over what farmers say is excessive regulation.

"The European regulatory machine continues to operate at full speed, ignoring the geopolitical, climatic and economic context that is undermining farms and farmers' incomes. We deplore this!" Copa-Cogeca said in a statement.

Ignored warnings

Farmers' discontent has been a growing concern in the European Parliament.

The right-wing EPP, the largest parliamentary grouping, has often sought to water down agricultural texts, arguing it represents farmers' wishes.

"We share the green ambition but it must be adapted to the economic situation. Agricultural prices are falling, expenses are skyrocketing, by adding additional regulatory efforts, it's too much," EPP MEP Anne Sander said.

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She also accused the commission of ignoring the sector's warnings for years.

Farmers are a "very important electorate", said EU lawmaker and vice-president of the parliament's socialist grouping, Pedro Marques.

"There's a perception that the centre-right and the far-right are trying to create in the farmers that the green transition, those that choose the green transition, are going against them," he said.

But he recognised the need to provide support, especially as the EU prepares to debate its ambitious 2040 climate targets, which will involve a costly decarbonisation of the agricultural industry.

Agriculture makes up 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.

Source: AFP

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