European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced Tuesday that she would scrap a controversial bill aimed at reducing the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture.
The Commission first proposed the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (SUR) regulation in 2020 as part of the Green Deal, von der Leyen’s signature policy blueprint for “ambitious” and legally binding plans to make the continent climate neutral by 2050. The Commission then formally proposed the SUR bill in June 2022, setting a goal of reducing pesticide use and risks by 50 percent by 2030.
“The Commission proposed the SUR with the goal of reducing the risks of chemical plant protection products,” von der Leyen told MEPs in Strasbourg. “But the SUR proposal has become a symbol of polarization.”
In reality, the withdrawal of the proposal is only a purely cosmetic measure. The European Parliament and several national parliaments, which supported the farmers’ opposition, have already blocked the bill, placing it at a dead end.
Von Der Leyen’s bureaucracy wanted the abandonment of the European “Industrial Agricultural Model,” but avoided asking themselves a number of basic questions such as, first and foremost, the survival of farmers, then how agricultural production could be maintained at affordable prices without the use of pesticides, and then how European production could be protected from competition from countries that do not apply this legislation, i.e., the whole world except the EU.
Faced with growing political opposition from farmer lobbies and center-right politicians, and now that farmer protests are sweeping through European countries—and last week even the Parliament itself—the EU executive officially pulled the plug, but the project was already dead.
Chairwoman Von der Leyen, who started out as a conservative German politician from the more bureaucratic side, had to note that her rhetoric was no longer working and that in parliament her own party was rejecting her measure, along with almost all of the green-related measures of the “From farm to fork” policy, which wanted to bend all food to green demands, including even the stigma on all animal food.
A purely political move
With the European elections four months away, the EPP is trying to present itself as a bastion of farmers’ interests in order to win rural votes.
The Greens and left-wing lawmakers, who led negotiations on the SUR, ended up voting against the bill in plenary last November after the EPP watered it down with the far-right groups Identity and Democracy and European Conservatives and Reformists. The three right-wing groups pushed to weaken some aspects of the law, including those aimed at protecting people in public areas from exposure to pesticides.
“What is not acceptable is to politicize the issue for electoral advantage, exploiting the suffering of farmers for this purpose,” said Iratxe García, Spanish leader of the Socialists and Democrats faction, addressing the EPP.
The EPP has largely scrapped a parallel Green Deal bill to restore vast European wilderness areas, although the legislation is still limping toward the finish line.
Now this choice becomes even stronger in the face of protests from farmers, who, however, I doubt will trust the words of a professional politician like Von Der Leyen, who has always shown herself distant from the productive world.