EU holds pesticide reduction, biodiversity preservation proposals amid Ukraine war

Now, it seems that the Commission has settled on holding back the proposal. A leaked document showing the Commission’s agenda, does not set any specific date for the publication of the draft SUD. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission has pushed back the tabling of its ‘Nature protection package’, which included the proposal to slash the use and risk of chemical pesticides in half by 2030 and nature restoration targets which aim at halting biodiversity loss in Europe.

Initially scheduled to be unveiled this Wednesday (23 March), the pieces of legislation represent two essential elements of both the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategy, the EU Green Deal agri-food chapter.

According to some leaked drafts, the Commission was expected to set an EU-wide binding 50% pesticide reduction target by 2030, leaving member states free to set their national targets and the legal commitment to cover at least 10% of the European agricultural area with high-diversity landscape features.

As rumours of a postponement started spreading in Brussels last week, the EU executive maintained an ambiguous stance, refusing to comment on the matter until Monday evening.

The majority of group coordinators in the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI)  wrote a letter to Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans asking not to hold off the future legislative proposals in the context of the Green Deal.

Another letter with the similar request not to hold back the revision of the EU’s pesticide framework was sent to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and other members of the College on Monday (21 March), when a leaked document started circulating showing the updated Commission’s agenda for the coming weeks.

According to the document, the date for the unveiling of the ‘Nature restoration package’ proposal was yet to be confirmed, although the release was set to be ‘before Summer’ this year.

Speaking before the EU agriculture ministers on Monday afternoon (21 March) – only two days before the original publication date – food safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said it was “not yet decided” when the draft directive would be tabled.

“One could argue that the generalised geopolitical uncertainty at this point does not allow this proposal on the sustainable use of pesticides the political space it needs for further proper discussion and reflection,” she said during the meeting.

Asked directly by French minister Julien Denormandie whether this meant the publication was postponed, Kyriakides refused to confirm while stressing, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does not negate its [the directive’s] necessity or urgency.”

Only in the evening, during a press conference after the Agrifish EU Council, did agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski confirm the postponement.

Asked by EURACTIV to clarify the situation, he said that “there is no discussion on pesticides at this week’s College”, referring to the meeting of all Commissioners scheduled every Wednesday that decides which legal act or communication to put forward.

This means, in practice, that the Commission will not present any legislative proposals in the context of the nature restoration package on Wednesday as originally scheduled.

LEAK: Commission to propose EU-binding reduction targets for pesticides

The European Commission plans to set an EU-binding 50% pesticide reduction target by 2030 but leave member states free to set their own national targets, according to a leaked proposal to revise the EU’s pesticide framework obtained by EURACTIV.

Member states slow down

At the end of last week, internal disagreements within the European Commission had become apparent over whether to suspend key legislative proposals meant to implement the EU’s green goals for the food sector in light of the Ukraine crisis.

While Timmermans found strong words to warn against giving up on sustainability, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski made it clear in a meeting with MEPs that the Farm to Fork Strategy implementation should be held off.

During the ministerial meeting on Monday (21 March), several member states favoured putting the directive on hold.

“We all support high environmental ambitions, but at the same time, we need to take into account the current challenges, which are caused by high prices for energy, gas, and agricultural inputs, and the need to provide for food security given the war in Ukraine,” Romanian minister Adrian-Ionut Chesnoiu said.

Poland’s Henryk Kowalczyk said the ambitious pesticide reduction targets of the directive would place an additional burden on domestic production when it is particularly important “to detach the European agriculture sector from the need for imports.”

Slovenia’s Joze Podgorsek echoed the argument, stating the proposal would “go in the face of food security” by exacerbating Europe’s import dependency.

However, Germany spoke out in favour of the reduction targets even after the Ukraine war: “We are sticking to our central objective of sustainable agriculture,” state secretary Silvia Bender stressed.

EU executive split on 'suspending' Green deal goals in farming due to food security fears

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski wants to hold off implementing the EU’s flagship sustainable food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, despite Commission Vice-President Fran Timmermans’ call to preserve the EU’s green ambition even in challenging times.

First reactions

The prospect of suspending pesticides reduction targets has also been met with a backlash among the relevant stakeholders.

Clara Bourgin, food and farming campaigner from Friends of the Earth Europe, called the decision to push back the directive’s publication a “grave mistake”, adding that “we urgently need to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable food systems.”

Meanwhile, CropLife Europe, which represents the pesticides and bio-pesticides industry, said it had not called for a delay, even though the Commission’s reasoning was understandable. “We are eager to see the proposal released,” they told EURACTIV.

Macron wants to 'adapt' EU Farm to Fork to the post-Ukraine war world

France’s agriculture sector will aim for “agricultural independence”, prioritising productivity over sustainable farming goals in the EU’s Green Deal to cope with a post-Ukraine war Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron told a press conference Thursday (17 March).

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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