What’s cooking in Brussels? Fear of the farmers

By Claire Stam
Schwarz-weiß Portrait von Claire Stam

EU agriculture ministers will meet in Brussels next Tuesday. One of the main courses will be talks with the Ukrainian Minister of Agriculture, who will attend the meeting. Also on the menu: Portugal’s agriculture minister will talk about the drought in his country and its impact on the national agricultural sector.

A distinctive feature of the agricultural sector is that it is both a victim of and a solution to climate change. This paradox feeds the political tensions around the agricultural part of the Fit for 55 package. For it is a fact: Global warming and the recurring droughts it causes highlight the vulnerability of the agricultural system.

The sector is also vulnerable because it has not yet succeeded in making the environmental transition – whether by reducing greenhouse gas emissions or reducing reliance on pesticides. Unlike the energy sector, it has not yet moved structurally onto a low-carbon path and the transition is still ahead of it.

How this transition can succeed is the subject of bitter disputes in Brussels. The European Commission’s proposals to restore nature and reduce pesticides were rejected this week by the AGRI and PECH parliamentary committees.

Personal connection to agriculture

The AGRI Committee’s rejection has caused such a stir in the otherwise subdued corridors of Rue Wiertz because that body carries a very special weight on Europe’s political chessboard. “Everyone is afraid of the farmers”, says a source close to the European Parliament.

In the debates between the head of the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, and the committee, many of the parliamentarians emphasized that they themselves were farmers or came from farming families. Their biographies give them a special coloring: Could one imagine MEPs on the ITRE Committee, which is responsible for energy issues, pointing out that they are electricians or come from families involved in the energy sector?

Is AGRI harming itself?

While the AGRI committee’s political clout is undisputed, its behavior raises questions: Could the committee have dug its own grave by rejecting Timmermans’ verve-laced proposal? After all, when legislators vote against a proposal, they lose the opportunity to influence the debate through their own amendments and by participating in the drafting of the legislation.

Other parliamentarians, for example, point out that while they do not support the Commission’s proposal, they see sufficient scope for amendments. This is why they voted against the rejection: to secure their room for maneuvering.

Renew as the decisive party

The rejection by the two parliamentary committees means that the ENVI committee has a special significance – as well as its chairman, the Frenchman Pascal Canfin. He used to be a member of the Greens, but has since switched to Renew. This is the group to which, as is well known, Emmanuel Macron’s party also belongs.

The French president recently attracted attention with his call for a “regulatory pause” in the area of climate protection. This pause is to apply to both industry and agriculture, as this sector is of crucial importance to the French economy.

The ENVI committee will vote on the texts on June 15. And for the parliamentarians of the other groups, the question is whether the Renew group will take a unified position or not. Speaking to the press in Brussels, Pascal Canfin acknowledged “internal discussions” on the Renew bill.


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