Commission President Ursula von der Leyen plans to bury the EU’s plans to slash the use and risk of pesticides by half by 2030 once and for all, proposing to withdraw the sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR) from the table with hopes to start afresh under the next mandate. Natasha Foote reports.
The contentious sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR) proposal aims to slash the use and risk of pesticides in half by 2030, as set out in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.
It seemed it was game over for the file after it was rejected outright by the European Parliament back in November. But, against the odds, work was continuing – albeit slowly – over in the Council, with the Belgian Presidency putting together a SURvival strategy in efforts to save some remnants of the file.
Any remaining hopes were officially dashed after Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed to put an end to the file once and for all on Tuesday (6 February).
Stressing that the SUR has become a “symbol of polarisation”, von der Leyen said during the plenary session in Strasbourg on Tuesday that she will propose a withdrawal of the proposal.
“It has been rejected by the European Parliament. There is no progress anymore in the Council either. So we have to do something,” she reasoned, noting that the Commission has perhaps not made a “convincing” business case for nature enhancing measures.
Von der Leyen emphasised that while the topic remains on the table, “more dialogue and a different approach is needed” to move forward.
On this basis, the Commission can make a new proposal with more “matured” content and with all the stakeholders together, she added.
“We need to avoid the blame game and to find solutions for problems together,” she said, referencing the outcome of the Commission’s freshly launched strategic dialogue of the future of agriculture in the EU, due to be tabled by late summer, which will “form the foundation of our future agricultural policy”.
The decision comes on the back of rising tensions among Europe’s farmers, who have been taking to the street in their thousands over the past few weeks to air their frustrations over falling incomes coupled with rising costs, unfair competition from free trade agreements, burdensome bureaucracy, escalating environmental demands and a lack of future prospects.
The news will likely come as a relief over in the Council, where frustration has been building that the Belgian Presidency continues to flog a dead horse.
One diplomat told ARC there was growing concern that continuing work on the file was not only “disrespectful” to their fellow lawmakers in the Parliament, but also “a waste of time and taxpayers money”.
Meanwhile, von der Leyen’s own political family, the centre-right EPP – who have waged a sustained campaign against the pesticide plan – celebrated the news. “The environmental conditions with the SUR regulation […] would have meant all kinds of irrational bureaucracy for our farmers,” the party’s President Manfred Weber said in response, while a number of its centre-right MEPs took to X to praise the decision.
The party used the occasion to try to concrete its self-appointed title as the ‘farmers party’ – but the politicisation of the “suffering of farmers” was slammed by other parties.
“You have done poor service to the farmers with the comments you have been making,” the Socialist’s Iratxe García Pérez said, pointing out that the EPP group has consistently voted against the reform of agricultural policies in a sustainable direction.
“Let’s be more responsible, let’s be more serious, and let’s not use the suffering of these people for our own interests,” she stressed.
Likewise, the Greens stressed they take concerns of farmers “very seriously”. “We have been saying for years that the CAP is not sustainable – not for the planet, but not for the farmers either,” party co-President Terry Reintke said, calling on fellow politicians not to start a “populistic debate”.
“Let’s focus on the concerns of farmers and address these together,” she said.