Amid rumble of tractor protests, European Union sets out more environmental concessions to farmers


BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s executive arm on Friday proposed sacrificing even more climate and environmental measures in the bloc’s latest set of concessions to farmers apparently bent on continuing disruptive tractor protests until the June EU elections.

Angering environmentalists across the 27 nations, the Commission proposed to further loosen rules imposed on agriculture which they said, not so long ago, were inherent parts of the bloc’s strategy to become climate neutral by 2050. That iconic challenge put the EU in the global vanguard of fighting climate change.

“The main goal of these legislative proposals is to further ease the administrative burden for EU farmers and give farmers and Member States greater flexibility for complying with certain environmental conditionalities,” a statement from Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission, said.

Under the proposals, the conditions to move farming to become more climate friendly were weakened or cut in areas like crop rotation, soil cover protection and tillage methods. And small farmers, representing some 2/3 of the workforce and the most active within the continent-wide protest movement, will be exempt from some controls and penalties under the new rules.

Politically, the bloc has moved rightward over the past year and the plight of farmers has become a rallying cry for populists and conservatives who claim EU climate and farm policies are little more than bureaucratic bungling from elitist politicians who have lost any feeling for soil and land. The Christian Democratic European People’s Party of von der Leyen had been among the most vocal and powerful in defending the farmers’ cause.

Scientists and environmentalists from around the globe though have insisted drastic measures are necessary just to contain global warming from getting worse, and have outpointed Europe as one of the places with the bleakest prospects.

The Commission proposals still need to be endorsed by the member states, but considering previous concessions, they stand a good chance of being accepted quickly, observers said.

Friday’s plans were the EU’s latest concessions in reaction to protests that have affected the daily lives of tens of millions of EU citizens and cost businesses tens of millions of euros due to transportation delays. Others have included shelving legislation on tighter pesticide rules and requirements to let some land lie fallow.

On top of the EU itself, member states have also caved in to several of the demands as the tractor protests shot up the political agenda. Complaints have centered on excessive bureaucracy, intrusive environmental rules and unfair competition from third countries, including Ukraine.

The Commission said that even though more flexibility measures for farmers were now proposed, the overall EU climate goals remained valid.

“We are the first continent to have made a binding legal commitment to reach climate neutrality by 2050. Not only have we done that,” said Commission spokesman Eric Mamer, “but we actually fixed a roadmap to 2030 with the legal act to ensure that we are on the right path to meet that objective.”

He insisted Friday’s proposals would not veer from that commitment, even though “that we … adapt from time to time to changing circumstances is obvious.”

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