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The Editorial's perspective on the rural uprising in Europe: promoting sustainability is beneficial for farmers as well.
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The Editorial’s perspective on the rural uprising in Europe: promoting sustainability is beneficial for farmers as well.


Once again, there was a tractor blockade disrupting operations. This time, it took place at the port of Antwerp in Belgium and caused a complete stop in economic activity. Similar protests occurred in Spain, with tractors blocking highways near Seville, Granada, and Catalonia. This rural unrest has been spreading throughout Europe since the beginning of the year, with only four EU countries remaining unaffected.

Numerically, farmers account for only 4% of Europe’s working population. But as Europe’s political leaders are belatedly coming to realise, the burgeoning crisis has outsize implications. A perfect storm of factors – including rising energy costs, competition from lightly regulated foreign imports and supermarket profit-gouging – have driven angry farmers off the land and on to the streets of capitals. But in disputes that touch on some of the faultlines of contemporary culture wars, there is a growing danger that the EU’s green deal takes the rap for a crisis incubated elsewhere.

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Radical right parties, like AfD in Germany and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, are using resistance against environmental changes as a means to attract supporters and promote their campaigns leading up to the European elections. In both Brussels and national governments, there has been a shift away from green initiatives. This is evident as the farmers’ protests gain momentum and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recently decided to delay plans to decrease pesticide usage and lower targets for reducing non-CO2 emissions.2 emissions.

Ms Von der Leyen’s announcement of concessions was justified as she acknowledged the numerous challenges faced by farmers and stated that they should be heard. Unfortunately, in the past, this has not been the case. In the Netherlands, a misguided plan to abruptly shut down thousands of farms in order to decrease nitrogen emissions sparked a revolt, contributing to the downfall of the government. This incident also created an opportunity for nationalist figure Geert Wilders, who capitalized on the anti-establishment sentiment and won the subsequent election.

But damaging tactical retreats on green issues are hardly the way forward. Instead, a persuasive strategic vision of the future of European agriculture is urgently required – one with sustainable farming as its centrepiece, but which also tackles the injustices that have fuelled discontent. As most farmers recognise, environmental adaptation is a necessity in a landscape increasingly to be shaped by drought, floods and heatwaves. However, the common agricultural policy, which funnels subsidies to large-scale industrial farms and away from struggling small and medium-sized producers, also needs to be reformed.

In the same way, efforts to achieve free trade, like the ongoing negotiations between the EU and Latin America, must not put European farmers at a disadvantage by allowing them to compete with producers who do not have to follow the same environmental rules. Additionally, greater support should be provided by governments or the EU to assist struggling farms in dealing with the challenges of increasing expenses, narrowing profits, and transitioning to more sustainable practices.

In the previous month, the sound of tractors could be heard in both Paris and Berlin as the European Commission initiated a “dialogue” regarding the future of agriculture in the EU. One of the main topics will be ensuring adequate support for rural communities. In order to safeguard the crucial objectives of the green deal, this discussion must promptly lead to implementation.

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Source: theguardian.com