Europe’s largest political party has joined a growing backlash against Brussels’ plan to reverse damage to the environment, arguing it threatens food production and farmers’ livelihoods.
The European People’s party, which has the most seats in the European parliament and is in power in nine countries across the EU, will call on Friday to scrap two flagship pieces of legislation put forward by their own European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen. The move could torpedo the commission’s plans to cut pesticide use in half and rewild a fifth of damaged habitats across the bloc by 2030.
EPP delegates are expected to support a resolution at their two-day political assembly in Munich, which starts on Thursday. “We reject the proposal on . . . pesticides as the reduction targets chosen are simply not feasible and the proposal does not offer farmers viable alternatives,” said the resolution seen by the Financial Times.
The commission has agreed to a new impact assessment because capitals fear that cutting pesticide use would reduce crop yields. The EPP argues that the plans would make investments in agriculture insecure. “Unsustainable cuts of plant protection products without realistic alternatives means a significant cut of the yields,” the party paper says.
The draft text also rejects the commission’s proposed law on “nature restoration”, arguing that existing legislation has already created a “bureaucratic nightmare and planning deadlock, endangering food security, renewable energy production [and] crucial infrastructure”. If enacted, the commission’s plan would take 10 per cent of farmland out of production, the EPP says, including by planting hedgerows and flooding drained peatland used as pastures.
Taken together, both plans “will make a big hole in the already very thin farmers’ budgets, will endanger the availability of European food and will increase inflation”, said Herbert Dorfmann, the EPP agriculture spokesman in the European parliament.
Nine commissioners including von der Leyen, are EPP members. She has so far refused to reduce the ambitions of the EU’s Green Deal and its plan to cut carbon emissions by 55 per cent between 1990 and 2030.
Other EPP politicians, including the president Manfred Weber, argue that the war in Ukraine, which has stoked inflation and cut food production in the export powerhouse, means farmers should be freed to maximise output.
He is also worried by the rise of populist parties, allies say. The Farmer-Citizen Movement’s triumph in Dutch provincial elections in March sent shockwaves through centre-right parties that count on rural voters. Even in Poland, a strong ally of Ukraine, the ruling conservative PiS party is being challenged by angry farmers, prompting a rare U-turn on measures designed to help Ukrainian grain reach global markets.
The EPP’s backing is crucial for opponents of the two pieces of legislation to thwart it in parliament. Of 705 members, the centre-right group counts 176 and more extreme rightwing parties another 128. The liberal Renew group supports the legislation but observers say it is split, with around 30 of its 101 MEPs against it. Renew said it was “fully committed” to the EU’s green deal.
If some Independents vote with the EPP the proposals could fail unless the commission reduces their scope. Some leftwing MEPs have also opposed climate legislation, arguing the cost of cutting carbon emissions is falling disproportionately on the poor.
The EPP has already won concessions on other green legislation by voting it down.
Meanwhile, member states have rejected parts of the pesticides regulation, with the commission agreeing to soften a proposed ban on all plant protection products in public spaces and nature reserves.
Diplomats also aired concerns about nature restoration in a meeting last week, with some saying it could clash with carbon reduction goals. They want assurances that restoring the seabed will not exclude building offshore wind farms.
The commission said that restoring biodiversity would aid farmers in the long run since degraded habitats need more fertilisers and chemicals to remain productive. It argues that, by preserving biodiversity, in line with international commitments, the bloc can secure “sustainable growth” for future generations.