Greener farm reform ‘still possible’, EU’s Timmermans says after meeting climate activists

"The Commission remains committed to making the CAP fulfil the objectives of the European Green Deal,” said EU climate czar Frans Timmermans. [© European Union 2021 - Source : EP]

A group of climate campaigners led by Greta Thunberg have met with European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, urging him to withdraw current proposals to reform the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Fridays For Future activists Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, Anuna De Wever, and Adélaïde Charlier met online with Timmermans on Tuesday (30 March) as part of their #WithdrawTheCAP campaign which criticises the EU’s farm reform for failing to address the climate and ecological emergency.

At the meeting, the young activists reiterated their call on the Commission to withdraw the EU’s farm reform proposal, saying it is “a direct violation” of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Timmermans himself recognises that the climate and environmental framework put forward in the CAP are insufficient,” said Luisa Neubauer, a leading figure in the German branch of the Fridays for Future movement.

“It’s time he sticks to his words and uses his power as the vice-president of the Commission to withdraw it,” she said in a statement.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, the group called on Timmermans to show courage on the proposed reform.

“The Commission could withdraw it, it is possible, especially if Timmermans says it’s bad,” said Anuna De Wever, a Belgian climate campaigner. “If it’s bad it should just be withdrawn, that would be the best, honestly,” she said.

Timmermans “discussed the urgency to act against the climate and biodiversity crises and the necessity to set the right agenda now,” said a statement issued by the European Commission after the meeting.

“The Commission remains committed to making the CAP fulfil the objectives of the European Green Deal,” Timmermans added on Twitter.

“While not easy, it’s still possible,” he said.

Belgian climate activist Adelaïde Charlier said she understood that Timmermans “is not alone” in making decisions about the EU’s farm reform, which has been years in the making and seeks to address the concerns of many constituencies – from farmers to retailers and consumers.

Nonetheless, she said Timmermans has “a huge responsibility” to steer the reform towards a greener path.

“His goal is to continue the trialogue to get a better CAP” for the environment, Charlier said, referring to three-way talks to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. “What we are expecting is for him to be a courageous leader” who speaks up about the environmental issues of the reform, she added.

But Neubauer expressed doubts about EU leaders’ commitment to move forward with a greener CAP. “We have a general issue with leaders who know better and better what is going on but pretend everything is alright,” she said.

Final stages of negotiation

The reform of the EU’s agriculture programme has entered the final stages of negotiation, with three-way talks currently taking place between EU member states representatives and the European Parliament, with the Commission acting as a mediator.

The green aspect of the CAP is still a divisive issue between EU countries and the European Parliament. The most contentious is the so-called eco-scheme introduced under the CAP’s first pillar, which deals with direct payments to farmers, and is designed to reward them for green agricultural practices.

But the environmental issues of agriculture go beyond the CAP and also include trade policy, the youth climate activists said.

Valentina Ruas, a 16-year-old Brazilian, highlighted the impact of trade deals on climate change, saying the EU-Mercosur agreement “will make it a lot worse”.

Brazil was ravaged by unprecedented forest fires last year and Ruas said the land that was cleared as a result is now being used to grow crops for export. “Non-coincidentally, the fires were there to give place for new soy crops and beef that is exported to the European Union,” she said.

“You can’t make a trade policy that completely disregards science,” she said, pointing to the climate impact of beef and soy.

Activists are not alone pointing out the climate impact of the EU-Mercosur deal. France said it would not ratify the agreement as it stands, saying it risked increasing “imported deforestation” in Europe. What Paris wants is “concrete and verifiable” guarantees from Mercosur countries on forest protection, said Franck Riester, France’s trade minister-delegate.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second between Timmermans and youth climate activists. “They agreed to meet again later this Spring,” the Commission said.

Time for small amendments to CAP is over, Greta tells the EU

In a virtual meeting with the Commission executive vice president Frans Timmermans, a group of young climate activists headed by Greta Thunberg reiterated their harsh criticism of the proposed reform of the EU’s farming subsidies programme, saying there was no more time for “small steps in the right direction”.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond. Additional reporting by Gerardo Fortuna]

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