Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The left struggles to mobilise farmers in Europe 

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During this electoral campaign, agricultural issues have taken centre stage due to the spectacular protests staged by farmers across Europe since January.  

Right-wing parties have made more efforts to capitalise on these protests for political gains. Left-wing parties, from greens to socialists, struggle to prove they can be farmers’ best allies. 

Recently, environmental groups organised a pre-election demonstration in Brussels focusing on climate and agri-food issues. However, NGO stakeholders and politicians vastly outnumbered farmers.  

This contrasted sharply with an anti-Green Deal protest held on the outskirts of the Belgian capital that gathered 1,200 farmers from nine different countries.

In many farmers protest, demonstrators have expressed similar concerns over bureaucratic requirements, new trade agreements with non-EU countries, and low remuneration. 

Even engaged organic farmers recognised last week that producers require better compensation for protecting the environment and biodiversity. 

“It’s not about the regulation. It’s about the system that we put them through,” Léa Charlet, a Belgian green candidate for the European Parliament, told Euractiv

The green transition, she added, is likely the only way for farmers to continue their work as extreme weather becomes increasingly frequent, biodiversity declines, and soil quality deteriorates.   

However, the EU’s Green Deal and its agri-food leg, the Farm to Fork strategy, have been criticised for pushing measures that would become costly for small and medium-sized farmers without offering additional financial support. 

And trying to impose new regulations on a group already facing economic hardship, as well as struggling to attract young people, nourishes feelings of frustration and anger that are easy for populist parties to exploit.

From our analysis of the candidates running for the new European Parliament, it emerges that in general, centre-right parties have made more efforts to add “farmer friendly” faces at the top of their lists, while S&D lost a couple of ‘heavyweights’, and liberals and Greens are likely to lose farmer MEPs.

Socio-economic challenges in agriculture are driving support for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) in France, according to a 2024 report for the European Committee of the Regions.  

In Italy, right-wing nationalistic parties are more popular in rural areas than in urban ones.

In Germany, rural voters are by far the largest supporters of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the report recalled.

Recent local elections in Poland showed that although the hard-right PiS (Law and Justice) party lost power, the countryside remained its firm stronghold.

Exit polls from the Netherlands also suggest that the Dutch BoerBurgerBewegin (BBB) will become the first farmers’ party to sit in the European Parliament – and join the ranks of the European People’s Party. 

In this scenario, the left’s struggle to connect with farmers risks becoming a factor of further polarisation of the agrifood debate in the next mandate.

Nibbles of the week 

Radical farmers rally in Brussels calling for overhaul of EU green agenda. On Tuesday (4 June), just days before voters go to the polls, more than a thousand farmers from at least nine EU countries gathered on the outskirts of Brussels to protest against European environmental rules and trade agreements. 

On the same day, stakeholders discussed the new legislative agenda for 2024 to 2029 and the changes foreseen for the agrifood sector at a virtual conference organised by Euractiv. 

Commission seeks feedback on review of “de minimis” aid. The EU executive launched on Friday (7 June) a public consultation on a revision of the agricultural “de minimis” regulation, which allows EU countries to grant certain amounts of state aid without the Commission’s approval because they are too small to distort the market.     

The EU executive announced an early revision of the regulation on 2 May, after a group of countries called for an increase in the ceiling for such small-scale aid. 

EU challenges Colombia’s compliance with WTO ruling on frozen fries spat. The bloc has filed a compliance request with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over Colombian tariffs on imports of Belgian, German, and Dutch frozen fries that the European Commission has deemed discriminatory. 

The Commission argues that Colombia has failed to comply with a 2022 WTO ruling on the trade spat, the EU executive wrote in a press release on 31 May. 

Argentine beef sector takes steps to meet new EU import rules on deforestation. Argentina unveiled its first certification scheme for deforestation-free beef to European Union authorities in Brussels on Monday, as the country prepares for a new EU law targeting imports linked to deforestation. 

Sweden to ban bottom fishing in territorial waters. Sweden is set to become the second EU country to ban bottom fishing in marine protected areas, going a step further than Greece’s decision in April to ban it in all territorial waters. The decision was announced at a press conference on Tuesday. 

Bottom trawling, a practice criticised by NGOs for impacting ecosystems, involves dragging heavy nets over the seabed, damaging ecosystems and releasing carbon into the oceans. 

Organic advocates celebrate legal win to halt ‘Eco-score’ labels. The European Federation of Organic Agriculture and its French members obtained a judicial agreement on Tuesday that will put an end to labels using the name ‘Eco-score’ for food products, as it can be misleading for consumers. 

[Edited by Angelo Di Mambro and  Zoran Radosavljevic]

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