In a stunning upset, the European Parliament voted down the “Sustainable Use of Pesticides” bill, which marked the cornerstone of the European Green Deal and the so-called “Farm to Fork” strategy. In 2020, the European Union planned a fundamental reform of the bloc’s agricultural sector, slashing pesticide use, cutting down fertilizer use, and boosting organic agriculture. And while some proposals remain on the tale, lawmakers have all but reverted the views they had three years ago, and there’s good reason for that.
When the EU initially unveiled its plans for reforms, COVID was in its initial phases, believed to be beaten by the stringent lockdowns, and Ukraine had not yet been invaded by Russia. Interest rates were close to being negative, so from within the echo chamber that is the EU’s executive, it seemed opportune to turn the entire food and farming system on its head.
After some initial, rather meek, political pushback, the commissioners of the EU persisted. It’s all for the good of the environment, they said. However, it quickly became apparent that the plans were going to be very expensive, according to the USDA, with agricultural production dropping between seven and twelve percent, and a significant impact on the overall GDP of the continent. Yet, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, persisted: chemical pesticides, even if approved by the independent regulator, should be reduced.
Cracks started to appear in the sincerity of the EU’s executive when French president Emmanuel Macron, then other European heads of state, began to doubt whether implementation of these rules was even possible. Farmer representatives had indicated they rejected the objectives of the EU’s strategies.
The Dutch provincial election, in which a farmer’s party that campaigned against government policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with EU law, won, marked the beginning of the end. The BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), also known as the Farmer-Citizen Movement, achieved a significant victory in provincial elections in the Netherlands; with an impressive 15 out of 75 seats in the Senate, it now holds the position of the most influential party in the country’s upper chamber. The BBB was established in 2019, but it gained widespread support following the government’s decision to reduce nitrogen emissions by shutting down approximately one-third of Dutch farms.
It turned out that cutting European farm land, all while depriving farmers of the right to adequately prevent pests from spreading, did not fare well with voters. Since then, the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest party in the European Parliament – which is expected to remain in the case after the upcoming election – has now coined itself as the farmer’s party, has struck down piece after piece of the European Green Deal. Many of its leftover components are likely not to make it to voting before the European elections in June next year.
Incidentally, Frans Timmermans, the Dutch architect of the European Green Deal, has already left his post in an attempt to become the Prime Minister in his home country, a gamble that has yet to materialize following the recent elections.
In a time span of just three years, the European Union went from stating that it was about to realize an unprecedented climate change reform to killing its own ambitions.
This abrupt reversal in the European Union’s stance on agricultural reform serves as a cautionary tale for the United States, highlighting the delicate balance between environmental ambitions and the economic realities faced by farmers. The EU’s ambitious plans, aimed at significantly reducing pesticide and fertilizer use while promoting organic agriculture, initially seemed like a bold step towards a more sustainable future. However, the practical implications of these proposals, particularly the potential negative impacts on agricultural production and GDP, led to a swift and decisive backlash.
For the United States, which also faces the challenge of balancing environmental conservation with agricultural productivity, the EU’s experience serves as a reminder that well-intentioned policies must be carefully crafted and thoroughly evaluated to avoid unintended consequences. The sway of public opinion, as demonstrated by the BBB’s success, emphasizes the need for inclusive decision-making processes that consider the interests of all stakeholders. As the U.S. explores its own agricultural and environmental policies, it should take a look at Europe and not repeat its mistakes.
Originally published here