Ursula der Leyen announces the withdrawal of the text on pesticides

The President of the European Commission announced on Tuesday the withdrawal of a controversial law aimed at reducing the use of pesticides in the European Union, marking a defeat for the Green Deal.

The European Commission is abandoning its ambition on pesticides. The president of the institution admitted on Tuesday before the European Parliament that the text (SUR) encountered political difficulties in the various institutions.

“The Commission proposed the SUR directive with the laudable aim of reducing the risks associated with chemical plant protection products,” explains Ursula von der Leyen.

“But the SUR proposal has become a symbol of polarization. It was rejected by the European Parliament. There is no more progress in the Council either. This is why I will propose to the College to withdraw this proposal.”

The regulation was presented in June 2022 with the ambitious objective of halving the use of pesticides by 2030. It also provided for a total ban on these products in sensitive areas, such as urban green spaces and Natura 2000 sites, and encouraged the adoption of low-risk alternatives.

The directive proved divisive from its inception and was the subject of significant lobbying from the agricultural sector. The text was rejected last year by the European Parliament. It is also blocked in political negotiations between member states, indicating governments’ weak desire to move forward.

This announcement from Ursula von der Leyen comes as the right increasingly opposes the European Green Deal and as farmers demonstrate across the continent against environmental regulations deemed too strict.

During her speech on Tuesday morning, Ursula von der Leyen spoke at length about farmers. The German official stresses that they “deserve to be listened to” as they face the consequences of climate change, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

However, she insists on the fact that the sector, which represents more than 10% of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions and which is largely subsidized by the EU budget, must evolve towards a “production model more sustainable”.

“Only if our farmers can make a living from the land will they invest in the future. And only if we achieve our climate and environmental goals together can farmers continue to earn their lives”, assures the President of the Commission.

“Our farmers are perfectly aware of this. We should trust them more.”

The withdrawal of the text is not immediate and must still be ratified by the College of Commissioners. The process should be finalized in the coming weeks.

However, Ursula von der Leyen emphasizes that the issue of pesticide regulation would remain on the agenda and could be the subject of a “new, much more mature proposal”. But due to the tight timetable imposed by the next European elections, the new project will be the responsibility of the next Commission.

“Of course, the subject remains topical and to move forward, we need more dialogue and a different approach,” believes the President of the Commission.

The legislative death of this regulation is a blow to the Farm to Fork strategy, a multi-part project unveiled in May 2020 whose aim is to make European food systems healthier and more sustainable.

Under pressure from conservatives and lobbyists, the strategy was gradually watered down and reduced to the bare minimum. The Commission decided last year to abandon the Sustainable Food System Act, which was supposed to form the backbone of the project. Instead, the executive opted to launch a strategic dialogue on agriculture with the aim of reducing the growing polarization of the sector.

Copa-Cogeca, the main farmers’ lobby in Brussels, welcomed the abandonment of the pesticide law. The organization believes that “this proposal resulting from the ‘Farm to Fork’ logic was poorly designed, poorly evaluated, poorly financed and offered few alternatives to farmers.” She calls for “realistic” solutions.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who had previously called for a “pause” in environmental regulations, also welcomed the withdrawal. It is “crucial that we keep our farmers on board for a more sustainable agricultural future, as part of our determination to achieve the Green Deal,” explains the Belgian leader on social media.

Other legislation related to agriculture that was on the table was ultimately not presented by Ursula von der Leyen’s team, such as new rules on the welfare of farm animals and labeling nutrition of foods at EU level.

This article is originally published on fr.euronews.com

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