EU’s Green Retreat: A Win for Far Right, Disaster for Rest

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EU's Green Retreat: A Win for Far Right, Disaster for Rest

The green deal of the European Union has taken a major hit. There is a lot of pressure due to increased lobbying and protests by farmers, Brussels has backed off from key environmental goals. It includes cutting of the pesticide plan to half, spreading eco-friendly farming, lessening the emission of livestock and also banning toxic “forever” chemicals. 

The main purpose of this retreat was likely to buy time, but it hasn’t had the desired effect. The next law in the line is the EU’s anti-deforestation law, with 20 agriculture ministers asking for it to be scaled back or suspended, citing “administrative burdens.”

Now the question is: Why is all of this happening? One major reason behind it is that the  centre-right parties are worried about the rise of far-right groups ahead of the European parliamentary elections in June. But some people also think that it may be a strategic move to set a business-friendly environment, or “brown,” agenda for the next European Commission, similar to how the Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion youth protests in 2018 shaped a greener direction for the current Commission.

The key difference points out from Pieter de Pous, the independent climate think tank E3G: “Unlike with the school strikes, the Commission and EU ministers didn’t even wait for the election results to come in this time. They just gave in right away.”

If all of this keeps moving forward, the next casualty might be the world’s forests. 

Losing the EU’s anti-deforestation law would be a big deal globally. This law is one of the top environmental achievements of the European Commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen, and it has earned recognition and inspired similar actions outside the EU. The law requires that certain products like beef, soy, coffee, and cocoa can be traced back to their sources, especially in areas where deforestation is a problem. If a product’s origins can’t be verified, it’s banned. The EU’s consumption of these products has caused around 10% of global forest loss, so this law is crucial for tackling deforestation.

However, the farmers that work on a small scale in the bloc should not be bound by those protection rules that apply in Amazon, according to Europe’s agriculture ministers. If Europe makes exceptions to its deforestation law, it raises some tough questions. How can the EU ban products from other countries that contribute to deforestation while allowing similar practices within its own borders? Why should other countries respect Europe’s rules on protecting forests if Europe itself doesn’t follow them? And how can we protect our remaining old-growth forests from the same industries that are causing deforestation elsewhere?

If the European Commission scraps this important measure, what will remain of its green deal by 2030? Not much, except for emissions cuts. Julia Christian from the forest conservation group Fern says that if President von der Leyen gives in, it would wipe out her biggest achievement in land use from the past five years. She warns that “almost nothing is left of the green deal.”

The story behind the EU’s move away from green policies is often about “farmers with pitchforks.” But farmers have had many different reasons for protesting, mainly focusing on three issues. First, they face a financial squeeze because their product prices are set low by retailers. Second, high input costs, fueled by commodity speculation around the Ukraine war, are eating into their profits. Third, farmers are worried that the trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur bloc will lead to more imports from countries with lower environmental and animal health standards.

The biggest agribusiness trade associations are on the focal point of policymakers. Just last week, over 20 agriculture ministers sent a letter together, warning that there could be “serious disruptions in all commodity supply chains” to Europe if the deforestation law isn’t made simpler by cutting “red tape” and reducing “administrative burden.”

Research Staff

Research Staff

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