European politicians, who are seen as hypocritical, are reducing their efforts towards addressing climate change in response to protests from farmers.
Tired due to an energy shortage, weighed down by administrative red tape, and frustrated with attempts to limit their pollution, farmers in Europe express that their struggles are being ignored.
In an open letter to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday, Europe’s largest farming lobby, Copa Cogeca, stated that they have been actively speaking out for the past few years but their concerns have not been acknowledged. They expressed that the traditional form of European family farming is at risk of disappearing.
Politicians in cities across Europe, including Paris and Berlin, have observed the anger as they watch tractors march through. After weeks of protests, farmers achieved their first victory on a European Union level on Wednesday. The demonstrations, which have been supported by far-right groups, have spread throughout western Europe. European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has urged member states to postpone the implementation of a key regulation aimed at promoting biodiversity and soil health for one year. This is just one of the concessions that have been made to appease farmers by politicians in France and Germany, but it has not been enough to quell the unrest.
The demonstrations are the most recent occurrence in an increasing backlash against the European green deal that has been developing for several months. As the European elections approach and the far right gains popularity in various member states, environmental organizations are concerned that attempts to weaken environmental regulations are facing less opposition.
According to Pieter de Pous, a climate specialist at the thinktank E3G, both Macron and Von der Leyen are feeling pressure from Marine Le Pen and their own political ambitions, which has led them to give in. The choice to postpone the rules was not well-supported and has sparked doubts about the EU’s agricultural policy.
The regulations that were initially set to take effect in 2025 require farmers to dedicate at least 4% of their land for non-productive purposes, such as hedgerows and trees, in order to continue receiving subsidies from the EU. Critics argue that the decision to postpone these regulations is more about pleasing a crucial voter base rather than the actual content of the policy. The commission had previously pushed back the implementation of these rules due to the chaos caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which disrupted grain supplies and raised concerns about food security. However, as the second anniversary of the war approaches, the availability of cheap grain from Ukraine has become a major source of frustration for farmers.
According to Ariel Brunner, the director of Bird Life Europe, the proposed solution to both excess and scarcity is always to harm the environment and increase production. However, this reasoning is blatantly hypocritical.
Until now, farmers have been the loudest voices opposing Europe’s climate strategies, and authorities have been quick to show their backing – particularly in rural regions that are losing support to extremist parties. This conciliatory approach has sparked accusations of double standards in places like Germany, where politicians who have condemned environmental demonstrators for blocking roads have praised farmers for doing the same with their tractors.
There is disagreement among analysts on whether the backlash against climate policies, known as “greenlash,” will extend beyond the environmental sector and garner significant backing from the general public. In recent European elections, such as those in the Netherlands and Poland, anti-environmental policies were not a major focus during campaigns, with topics like immigration and employment taking precedence.
However, if there is a change towards the conservative side in the European parliament, it could result in an increase in the number of seats held by parties that either reject the existence of climate change or oppose taking action to mitigate it. Despite the fact that many of the measures included in the European green deal have already been approved, albeit in a diluted form, the upcoming elections in June have the potential to shift the balance in favor of dismantling environmental regulations altogether.