European Commission to withdraw pesticide bill that angered farmers

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that she would withdraw a controversial draft law that aimed to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture.

The European Commission first proposed Sustainable Use of Pesticides (SUR) regulation in 2020 as part of the Green Deal, von der Leyen’s political project that includes ambitious and legally binding plans to make the continent climate neutral by 2050.

In June 2022, the Commission officially proposed the SUR draft law, aiming to reduce pesticide use and risks by 50 percent by 2030.

“The Commission has proposed the SUR with the worthy goal of reducing the risks associated with chemical plant protection products. But the SUR proposal has become a symbol of polarization,” von der Leyen told MEPs in Strasbourg.

With the growing political opposition from farmers’ lobbies and center-right politicians, and now with farmers’ protests sweeping across European countries, the European Commission has decided to backtrack.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Kroo welcomed the move.

This comes as part of a broader softening of the EU’s stance on greening the agri-food sector: The European Commission has dropped references to agriculture in its soon-to-be-released 2040 climate targets and last week introduced a one-year pause in its requirement for farmers to leave farmland fallow to preserve biodiversity.

Von der Leyen’s retreat is largely due to opposition from her own political family, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP). Four months before the European Parliament elections, the EPP is trying to present itself as a bastion of farmers’ interests in order to win votes from rural voters.

Von der Leyen also said that a report on consultations with farmers and environmental groups will be ready “by the end of the summer” and will form the basis of the EU’s future agricultural policy, which is currently based on the allocation of giant subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Farmers have been protesting in many EU countries for several weeks now.

In the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, hundreds of farmers took to the streets on February 5, accusing the government of failing to address the problems of the agricultural sector, just as in other European countries.

Meanwhile, in Latvia, farmers in 16 cities protested, putting forward a ban on products from Russia and Belarus as one of their main demands.

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