Timmermans cautions against relaxing Green deal goals for sake of food security

On Monday (7 March), executive Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans had an extraordinary meeting with MEPs in the Parliament's environment committee, exchanging views on the effects of the war in Ukraine on climate policies and on the European Green Deal. [EP/MARVAUX]

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans stood up for the Green Deal objectives in the EU’s farming policy despite the calls of prioritising food security aspects in the wake of supply disruptions caused by the Ukraine war.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has put the spotlight again on food security, as the ongoing war involves two agricultural powerhouses providing over a third of the world’s wheat and barley, 17% of corn and over 50% of sunflower oil and seeds.

A mention of food security is expected to be included in the conclusions of the informal European Council to be held this week (10-11 March) in Versailles.

“We will improve our food security by reducing our dependencies on imported agricultural products and inputs,” reads the draft text, seen by EURACTIV, currently on the table of the EU ambassadors in Brussels.

A side debate is taking hold on whether the goals of the main Commission’s sustainable food policies, the Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity strategy, might hamper agricultural productivity and, therefore, Europe’s food security.

Speaking after a special meeting with the EU-27 agriculture ministers last week (2 March), the agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski conceded that the EU “need[s] to keep a close eye on the objectives of these policies in the context of food security”.

However, Timmermans, the commissioner in charge of delivering the ambitious Green Deal, dismissed any idea of relaxing sustainability goals in the EU’s food policy, speaking before lawmakers in the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) on Monday (7 March).

“Please, don’t believe in the illusion that […] you would help food production by making it less sustainable, by not opting for Farm to Fork strategy, by not making it more resilient in terms of the natural environment and the food production,” he warned.

EU to look again at Green deal goals in farming to ensure food security

The European Commission will look again at the objectives of its main sustainable food policies, the Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity strategy, to see if they can ensure Europe’s food security in the aftermath of the Ukraine war.

‘Radical’ additions?

Timmermans referred to the goal of reducing fertiliser use included in the Farm to Fork, which could come in handy when coping with the disruption caused by the ban on importing potash from Belarus, an important fertiliser that is largely deficient in Europe.

“So, here I would argue that Farm to Fork is part of the answer and not part of the problem,” he continued.

Environmental organisations praised the strenuous defence of the Green Deal and the Greens in the European Parliament.

“Keeping those targets is the only responsible thing to do,” said Green MEP Tilly Metz, who added that both the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies allow Europe to be more independent in terms of food security.

But in an interview with EURACTIV, Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of the EU farmers’ association (COPA-COGECA), said that the Green Deal does not need radical changes but radical additions instead.

“We have no problem with the Green Deal as such, but we need to have the assistance of the Union to make this happen,” he said.

According to him, the Ukraine crisis offers the possibility to enhance the Green Deal package to enable farmers to maintain supplies to the market in both quantity and quality.

“An additional layer needs to be there, and, let me be very blunt, the commission has failed to deliver it,” he said.

EU sanctions on Belarus target key fertiliser amid rising input prices

The EU has banned all imports from Belarus of potash, an important fertiliser that is largely deficient in Europe, in a move that puts further pressure on the agriculture sector already struggling with an input price hike.

Food shortages in sight

Meanwhile, the largest political group in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party, is asking the EU executive to submit some sort of European strategic food safety plan.

“The Russian attack on Ukraine will most likely strongly affect European food security and create difficulties for our agri-food markets,” said the Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, EPP’s spokesman for agricultural issues, in a note.

According to him, supplies of wheat, soybeans, vegetable oils and chicken meat, of which Ukraine is a significant producer, will conceivably slow down in the coming months, and the war will severely compromise the 2022 harvest in Ukraine.

The EPP is also asking the Commission to put on hold the implementation of the Farm to Fork. “The Commission should avoid presenting other legislative proposals that have negative impacts on European food security”, continued Dorfmann.

Some EU countries such as Hungary and Bulgaria have already started restricting exports of farming products due to concerns raised by the conflict in Ukraine.

In the hearing with Timmermans, Dutch liberal MEP Jan Huitema shared his concerns for farmers living in Ukraine and Ukrainian people now displaced.

“They are not going to have any cereals. They are not going to have seeds for the fields, they are not going to have food shortages. We could run the difficulty that people aren’t going to be able to harvest in Ukraine. What are we going to do in the EU?” he stressed.

Timmermans recognised that the risk of food shortages is “not so much for the European Union, but for many other ‘customers’ of Ukraine in the developing world with high levels of birth rates.”

“There are serious risks of the farmers in Ukraine cannot start to sow the crop now in the next couple of weeks,” Timmermans stressed.

Ukraine halts export of key foodstuffs as concerns mount over EU food security

Ukraine’s government has introduced export licensing of key foodstuffs including wheat, corn, poultry meat, and sunflower oil according to the Ukrainian news agency, Interfax Ukraine, as EU farmers sound the alarm over food security across the bloc.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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