After months of farmer protests, the European Commission has announced a U-turn on the bloc's green agricultural policies. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)


EC U-turns on ‘green’ rules after farmers’ protests

Brussels is selling the changes as an attempt to streamline the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by cutting red tape


After months of farmer protests, the European Commission has U-turned on its “green” agricultural policies.

Published late on March 15, Brussels is selling the changes as an attempt to streamline the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by cutting red tape.

Commentators say the reforms actually illustrate the EC abandoning its environmental demands for the sector, scrapping numerous green regulations previously deemed essential elements of the CAP.

One of the biggest changes regards soil protection. Under previously agreed rules, farmers would have had to leave certain sections of their land fallow to encourage nutrient recovery in their fields.

Having already been weakened in response to agricultural workers’ protests earlier this year, the measure has been axed entirely. Farmers are instead now to be given financial incentives to leave parts of their land unproductive.

Crop rotation and “soil cover” directives – a term referring to vegetation including crops and crop residues on the surface of the soil – are also being watered down.

Many of these issues, alongside problems with agricultural imports from Ukraine and South America, were cited by farmers protesting at recent demonstrations in Brussels.

In a statement published in the wake of the latest EC announcement, its President Ursula von der Leyen insisted the changes proved the body was willing to take “strong and swift action” to protect farmers.

“Today’s proposals, crafted in close co-operation with farmers, key stakeholders, our Member States and MEPs, offer targeted flexibilities to help farmers do their vital work with greater confidence and certainty,” she said.

“We are sending a clear message that agricultural policy adapts to changing realities while staying focused on the key priority of protecting the environment and adapting to climate change,” von der Leyen added, insisting the EC “will continue to stand steadfastly by” Europe’s farmers.

Environmental groups have responded to the about-turn with anger. Among them, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) accused the EC of wanting to hand cash to farmers with no conditions.

“It is staggering that, in the very same week scientists warn that Europe is unprepared for rapidly growing climate risks, the European Commission – without any impact assessment or proper public consultation – axes the requirement for EU countries to implement the few measures left in the [CAP],” senior EEB official Faustine Bas-Defossez said.

“Without conditionality, a lot of public money is passed along with no strings attached and certainly no requirement to transition to sustainable farming practices,” she added, saying that only “vested interests” were now set to gain from EU agri-policy.