Farmer protests: EU Commission caves and withdraws proposal to halve pesticide use

Farmer protests: EU Commission caves and withdraws proposal to halve pesticide use
FWA chair Marianne Streel and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen pictured at a meeting between heads of state and representatives of agricultural federations. Credit: Belga/Benoit Doppagne

Following a week of farmers' protests in several European countries, the European Commission is now withdrawing its Sustainable Use Regulation (SUR) proposal, which would halve the use of pesticides in the EU.

The proposal to halve the use of pesticides by 2030 will be withdrawn, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced in the European Parliament on Tuesday. It was stuck in negotiations in the Parliament and between the Member States.

"The Commission proposed to reduce the risks from chemical pesticides, but the proposal has become a symbol of polarisation," she said. "It was rejected by the European Parliament. There is also no more progress in the Council. That is why I will propose to the Commission to withdraw this proposal."

In November 2023, MEPs were unable to agree on a negotiating position with the Member States, after Christian Democrats, nationalists and the far-right group amended the initially proposed legislation. Among Member States, the divisions were also too great to reach a position.

Placing more trust in farmers

Holding the temporary Presidency of the Council of the EU, Belgium made an attempt to split the package by first approving the general principles and delaying the more concrete elaboration until after the elections, but that route also encountered resistance in the Parliament.

A farmer throws a glass bottle on Thursday 1 February 2024. Credit: Belga / Dirk Waem

Von der Leyen seized the impasse as an opportunity to make a gesture towards the protesting farmers; the Commission suspended the rule that farmers must leave 4% of their arable land fallow for one year last week.

"We should place more trust in our farmers. We must stop blaming each other and find solutions to the problems together," she said. By late summer, a report based on the outcomes of the strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture in the EU will present options for possible future reforms.

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On this basis, the European Commission will make a new proposal to reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture. When that will happen, however, is not clear.

MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere (CD&V) said that the symbolic target of halving pesticide use by 2030 did not take into account the reality on the ground, resulting in "the Commission reaping the unrest and disapproval that it sowed itself."

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) welcomed Von der Leyen's announcement to withdraw the regulation on pesticides. "It is crucial we keep our farmers on board to a more sustainable future of farming, as part of our determination to get the Green Deal done. The dialogue continues. The work continues."

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