While numerous farmers in Brussels have once again expressed their dissatisfaction with the EU’s agricultural policy, representatives of the EU states are pushing for looser environmental rules for farmers. In a special committee for agriculture, the majority of them supported proposals from the European Commission that also provide for less strict organic requirements. The EU states said this would address the concerns of farmers.

Parallel to the decision, farmers again blocked traffic in the Belgian capital with, according to the police, around 250 tractors. The protest – like other farmers’ protests in Brussels – also resulted in violence. According to their own statements, the police arrested one person because he was said to have thrown Molotov cocktails in the direction of the security forces. The officers also used tear gas and prevented tractors from breaking through the barriers. Two police officers were injured and taken to hospital. They were unable to work for 11 and 13 days respectively.

Farmers have been putting pressure on politicians for a long time – among other things, they complain about too much bureaucracy. The declared aim of the easing measures now being pushed forward is to reduce administrative burdens for farmers and to give them more flexibility in complying with certain environmental regulations. From the perspective of Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens), failings in previous agricultural policy are to blame for the farmers’ situation. The Commission announced the proposals to change the EU’s agricultural policy in the middle of the month – the plan is to push them through in an urgent procedure.

Voluntary nature of brownfield sites

The proposals include, among other things, standards that are intended to ensure the good agricultural and ecological condition of soils. In principle, farmers have to adhere to these in order to benefit from the EU agricultural subsidies worth billions. This involves, for example, specifications for fallow land and crop rotations, which are intended to ensure that soils are not unduly affected by agricultural use.

So far, for example, farmers have been obliged to leave part of their arable land fallow or to use it unproductively. The Commission has now proposed that this should only be made voluntary. The member states should in turn reward farmers who leave land fallow despite relaxing the regulations.

Özdemir is concerned about declining environmental protection

From the perspective of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the proposed changes reduce the environmental protection ambitions of the common EU agricultural policy. The ministry said in a statement after the commission had presented its proposals that they wanted to push for adjustments. Reducing bureaucracy should not mean that environmental protection suffers, said Minister Özdemir. Crop rotations, for example, are important for soil fertility, said the Green politician.

Baden-Württemberg’s Agriculture Minister Peter Hauk demanded that the federal government implement the Commission’s proposals one-to-one. “Farmers finally need a longer-term perspective in order to be able to overcome current and future challenges,” said the CDU politician.

If there is a majority in the European Parliament in April, the changes could come into force at the end of spring. The chairman of the EU Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, Norbert Lins (CDU), welcomed the planned changes. He expects the adjustments to be approved quickly and without changes in Parliament. When the current rules for EU agricultural policy were originally negotiated, it was a years-long process within the EU institutions.

No agreement on tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural products

On the sidelines of the agriculture ministers’ meeting, disagreements between the EU states emerged again. It is planned to reintroduce tariffs on certain agricultural products such as eggs from Ukraine. However, a compromise on this does not go far enough for some EU states. Among other things, Hungary demands that wheat above a certain quantity must also be declared customs. There are also voices from France and Poland calling for stricter customs rules.

In Brussels, Özdemir found clear words to criticize Ukrainian agricultural imports. Ukraine’s defense also depends on “not taking part in Putin’s propaganda,” said the minister. The problem of falling grain prices is not due to Ukrainian deliveries. “There is simply no evidence for this. Anyone who says that should please back it up with facts and figures,” said the Green politician.