Controversy in Brussels as countries agree to EU agricultural policy review

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EU member states on Tuesday agreed to decide on environmental requirements under the common agricultural policy (CAP) in order to end the farmers’ protests that have been going on for several months – which have been met by violent police in Brussels for the third time in two months. .

Police said they used tear gas and water cannons against farmers who threw eggs and Molotov cocktails at them, while two officers were injured in the standoff and arrested.

The report of the CAP was approved by a special committee where the ministers of agriculture met under tight security in the European part of the city, where the farmers loaded 250 tractors, burning tires and barrels of hay.

“We have listened to our farmers and we have taken immediate steps to address their concerns at a time when they are facing many challenges,” said David Clarinval, Belgium’s deputy prime minister, who holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

He said the reform aims to cut red tape and give farmers flexibility in complying with green regulations while “maintaining a strong desire for the environment” – a move rejected by environmental groups as a major step backwards.

Farmers have been protesting across EU countries, from Belgium to France, Spain, Italy and Poland, over a long list of measures they say are cost-cutting.

The latest on agriculture comes less than three months before bloc-will elections for the European Parliament. Analysts predict that the vote will lead to the rise of right-wing parties that are using farmers’ discontent as part of their campaign.

The proposal will now go to EU lawmakers for approval.

– ‘Old Recipes’ –

The CAP review, which was originally prepared by the European Commission in mid-March, changes the environmental and climate policy that determines whether farmers can receive support under the plan.

A major change includes granting rights to farmers who fail to meet CAP requirements due to adverse weather conditions.

The revision also eliminates the obligation to set aside a portion of the land for cultivation — a policy aimed at protecting soil and promoting biodiversity but a major problem for farmers. But they would still be encouraged to do so.

Countries in the organization will be able to choose which soils to protect and in which climate, and will be allowed to plant different crops and rotate them.

And the reform exempts small farms under 10 hectares (25 acres) from the procedures and penalties related to CAP compliance.

French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau welcomed it as a “decent” step.

And Europe’s powerful farmers’ union Copa-Cogeca said its adoption by member states sent a “good signal”, calling on EU lawmakers to follow suit.

But a coalition of 16 environmental groups, including WWF and Greenpeace, announced that they were “deeply concerned”, saying that the decision was made without proper evaluation and urging the Commission to change it.

The review was approved and supported by most of the relevant EU countries – beyond opposition from Germany.

Despite frequent criticism of the CAP rules, Germany’s Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir said the changes represented a step backwards – to a time before the EU made environmental protection a priority.

“We don’t get better results using old recipes,” Ozdemir warned. “This was a law that really hurt the little guys, and it only made the big guys bigger.”

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