Commission warns Denmark over new agriculture package

Wheat harvest before sunset near Branderslev. Lolland island, Denmark. [Lars Plougmann/Flickr]

The European Commission has sent a letter to the Danish government expressing concern that its new agriculture package is in breach of three environmental directives.

The package appears to not live up to the EU’s Water Framework Directive, Nitrates Directive and the Habitats Directive, the Commission writes in a letter to Danish Environment and Food Minister Esben Lunde Larsen.

While Larsen has declined to give any comments, the government will meet with opposition parties later today (11 May) to discuss the problems with the package.

The agriculture package, which was agreed on by the centre-right government and its supporting parties in February, includes 30 new initiatives which are meant to support, in different ways, Denmark’s struggling and debt-ridden farmers, by lowering the environmental criteria they have to live up to.

For example, in order to protect water quality, farmers are obliged to use less fertilizers than what is optimal for plant growth. This costs Danish farmers up to €240 million annually, and the agricultural sector has lobbied against it for years. The agriculture package aims to change this regulation.

In recent months, the agriculture package has been one of the most debated and controversial issues in Denmark, as officials have anonymously told the press that they had been forced to work on it, knowing the outcome would conflict with Denmark’s obligations under EU law.

It also led to the resignation of the previous Minister for Food and Agriculture, Eva Kjer Hansen, after she gave misleading information to parliament on how green the new agriculture initiatives would become.

“The government has continuously been informed that the agriculture package would be contrary to EU rules. So it surprises me that the government has let this go so far that the EU is now getting involved,” Simon Kollerup, a spokesman for the opposition Social Democrats, told news agency Ritzau.

Danish media have speculated that the increasingly unpopular government, consisting of the Liberal Party, decided to design an agriculture package that would appeal to farmers, who used to be the party’s main voter base, and deliberately ignore warnings over its negative impact on the environment.

The lifting of EU milk quotas in March 2015, combined with declining Chinese demand, changing dietary habits, and a Russian embargo on Western food products, led to a drop in prices for beef, pork and milk. The European Commission unlocked €500 million in aid to farmers in September 2015, as angry protesters took the streets of Brussels.

  • 11 May: Danish parliament to discuss the Commission's letter regarding the new agriculture package.


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