Stockholm (NordSIP) – Europe-wide efforts to address the global crisis in nature and biodiversity are under threat from a major centre-right political group. The European People’s Party (EPP) is a transnational coalition representing parties from 43 European Union (EU) and non-EU countries. It is the largest political group in the European parliament and counts EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen among its members. The EPP is expected to approve a resolution at its upcoming Munich general assembly rejecting many farming-related elements of the EU green Deal, which von der Leyen herself has been actively seeking to implement. If approved, the EPP resolution will likely put the Commission President at odds with her own party.
Contentious pesticide reduction and rewilding measures
The EPP is objecting to two specific sets of regulations within the green deal proposals aimed at the sustainable use of pesticides and nature restoration. Among the stated targets are a 50% reduction in pesticide use by 2030 and the restoration and protection of 30% of European land and sea territory. Speaking on behalf of the EPP, MEP Marlene Mortler said: “Food security and long-term resilience of EU agriculture should be a top priority for the European Commission (EC). The EC should ensure that our farmers are able to produce and supply high-value agricultural commodities.” According to Mortler, the war in Ukraine and cost-of-living crisis are in danger of turning supply chains into geopolitical tools. “The objectives of the Green Deal must be implemented in such a way that food security is not compromised, and that sustainability is ensured in environmental, economic and social terms. Now it looks as if the European Commission has difficulties hearing the problems of farmers.”
Increasingly populist tactics
The issue of farmers’ rights in the face of increasingly stringent environmental legislation is becoming a battleground for right-wing, and in some cases populist European political parties. Farmers in the Belgium and the Netherlands have been protesting against measures to reduce nitrogen levels in soil, which exceed EU-approved levels in the two countries and are related to excessive fertiliser use and overly large livestock populations. The EPP is now adding pesticide reduction and rewilding to this growing list of Green Deal-related objections from the agricultural sector. As part of its campaign, the EPP has been accused by NGOs of scaremongering and disingenuous tactics on social media. Among the various unsubstantiated claims made by the EPP are the supposed threat of global famine from a 10% reduction in European farmland, and the potential destruction of ancient villages for wetland restoration. The Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists and far-right Identity & Democracy groups have joined the EPP’s calls for the farming-related measures to be either eliminated or drastically scaled down.
Long-term goals under threat
Environmental NGOs are alarmed at the politicisation of the proposed farming-related changes. They argue that land use and food waste data do not support the EPP’s claims, and that the long-term viability of European farming is at much greater threat from biodiversity loss, soil and water degradation, and climate change. Sabien Leemans, Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office said: “In its opposition to the Green Deal targets, the EPP has resorted to scaremongering and acting in bad faith. As the debate over the EU Green Deal proposals continues, the rejection puts the future of European agriculture and the environment in real danger. Droughts, floods and forest fires are regularly gripping Europe and threatening farmers’ livelihoods. Instead of looking for solutions to make farming more resilient to these recurring events, EPP rejects the one solution we have at our disposal – nature restoration.”
The brewing storm over these Green Deal measures is yet another example of the headwinds faced by policymakers seeking to address the climate and biodiversity crises. Political parties may see these issues as a means of gaining votes by capitalising on short-term concerns, while ignoring the science-based measures that need to be implemented to reach long-term sustainability targets. The EU Commission is aiming for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides and Nature Restoration regulations to become law before the 2024 European elections, but is currently facing an uphill task.