In an unexpected announcement, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told the European parliament on Tuesday that she intends to withdraw a draft law aiming to cut the use of chemical pesticides in Europe.
The proposed sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR) sought to halve the use of chemical plant protection products by 2030 and to completely ban them in ‘sensitive areas’ such as public parks and playgrounds.
The proposal was a key component of the ‘farm to fork strategy’ to reduce the environmental impact of the EU’s food system, a plank of the European Green Deal spearheaded by former Dutch EU commissioner Frans Timmermans.
Amid farmers’ protests across Europe, Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs “the SUR proposal has become a symbol of polarisation. It has been rejected by the European parliament. There is no progress anymore in the council either. So we have to do something. That is why I will propose to withdraw this proposal.”
She then added: “But of course, the topic stays. And to move forward, more dialogue and a different approach is needed. And on this basis, the commission could make a new proposal with much more matured content and with the stakeholders together.”
Farmers’ protests which started in France last week have since spread to other parts of Europe, including towns and cities in the Netherlands.
On Tuesday morning, while French farmers gathered outside the European parliament building in Strasbourg, Dutch council officials were still clearing the rubble after Monday night’s protests which left several people injured in traffic accidents.
In November, the European parliament voted to ditch the regulation but the discussion continued among EU member states.
Farmers groups, which had warned the “arbitrary targets and transition periods”, raising the issue of costs and the financing needed to achieve the targets, welcomed Von der Leyen’s announcement. The European People’s Party, the largest group at the European parliament, also said the move was “overdue”.
GroenLinks MEP Bas Eickhout said on social media that the commission president should come up with a new proposal. “It is in everyone’s interest, especially the farmers’, that we reduce use of pesticides. Naive to think pesticides industry will not fight it again.”
Partij voor de Dieren MEP Anja Hazecamp said that removing stricter rules for “poison” use is only serving the industry. “350 million kilos of agricultural poison are sprayed on European fields every year. Poison that contaminates soil, groundwater, rivers and food and threatens the health of humans and animals.”
The full commission now has to make the decision to withdraw the proposed regulation. Meanwhile, the European parliament will hold a debate on Wednesday on “a dialogue towards sustainable and fairly rewarded EU agriculture”.
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