The EU will postpone implementing a new environmental regulation in order to pacify farmers who are protesting.
The farmers who are protesting in Europe have achieved their first victory from Brussels, as the EU has declared a postponement of regulations that would have required them to allocate land for the promotion of biodiversity and soil health.
On Wednesday, approximately 10,000 French farmers intensified their demonstrations by setting up at least 100 roadblocks on main routes throughout France. 18 farmers were taken into custody for obstructing traffic while attempting to reach the Rungis wholesale food market, located southeast of Paris. An additional 79 were detained after successfully gaining entry to the market.
Farmers from Belgium participated in protests at the border with France and some also obstructed the entry roads to the Zeebrugge container port for a second consecutive day. Farmers from Spain and Italy also held demonstrations.
The decision to postpone regulations on reserving land, which is likely to be officially approved by member states in 15 days, was referred to as “a supportive measure” by Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European Commission, given the challenges currently faced by the sector.
Referring to the occurrence of floods, wildfires in Greece, heatwaves in southern Europe, and a drought in Spain that has caused reservoir levels in Andalucia to drop to 20% of their normal levels, he emphasized the need to listen to farmers and avoid polarizing discussions that hinder productive conversations.
“We recognize the need to take action due to the pressure being felt by the farming community,” he stated. “We have experienced multiple severe weather events, such as droughts and floods, across Europe, which have had a significant detrimental impact on the output and revenue of our farmers, resulting in decreased income for them.”
Šefčovič stated that in addition to increased energy costs, the potential impact of weather on crops has created a consistent challenge for farmers. This has resulted in elevated production expenses and decreased profits.
According to the regulations, farmers were required to set aside 4% of their arable land for the purpose of restoring soil health and promoting biodiversity, which is currently facing a crisis.
Alternatively, farmers could have been exempt from the “set-aside” rule by using 7% of their land for “catch crops” such as clover, which provide soil cover after the main crop is harvested.
Under the new plans, farmers will not be required to allocate unused land or any portion of land for secondary crops until 2025.
There has been a recent development in response to the escalating farm protests within the last 24 hours. On Wednesday, farmers from southern France were able to bypass police barriers near Paris by using alternate routes or switching from tractors to trucks. This allowed them to reach the vicinity of the Rungis food market. Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, had previously cautioned that while demonstrations on highways would be permitted, authorities would not permit blockades at airports or Rungis, which is the biggest fresh food market in Europe.
Fifteen out of the 18 farmers who were taken into custody near Rungis by the Créteil prosecutor’s office in Paris are currently being interrogated by the police.
Farmers in France have also created roadblocks near Lyon. In the southern town of Cavaillon, foreign produce such as kiwifruit and pears from Italy were removed from trucks at a roadblock set up by farmers.
Virgile, a farmer who was giving a demonstration, stated to BFMTV: “The issue here is the frustration of rural folks being disregarded by ignorant individuals. We toil tirelessly. Our message is: Support French agriculture, put in that extra effort.”
Following a series of pleas for increased profits, decreased bureaucracy, and safeguarding against international rivalry, Arnaud Rousseau, leader of France’s primary farming union FNSEA, acknowledged that farmers have high hopes. He also acknowledged that not all requests can be promptly fulfilled, therefore he is urging for a composed and rational approach.
So far, farmers have not been satisfied with the immediate solutions proposed by politicians or authorities in Brussels. They are worried about the expensive land prices, the demand from supermarkets to sell their produce at low prices, and the numerous new environmental regulations in the form of EU laws for nature conservation.
Critics argue that the agricultural sector in the EU receives significant favoritism, as it is allocated over €307 billion (equivalent to £260 billion) from the overall EU budget between 2023 and 2027.
When asked if the concession made on Wednesday would satisfy the protesters, Šefčovič acknowledged that the EU needed to have more discussions with farmers to ensure their voices are heard. He also emphasized the importance of making Europe a livable continent for future generations.
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France will oppose a trade deal between the European Union and the South American Mercosur bloc – a key grievance for protesters – being signed in its current state.
The economy minister of France, Bruno Le Maire, announced increased monitoring of European food trading platforms to guarantee that trade negotiations do not compromise farmers’ income.