Uncertainty ahead for EU Green Deal policies

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/iZhenya
© GettyImages/iZhenya

Related tags pesticides welfare EU Green Deal Rabobank greenhouse gas emissions biodiversity

The EU Green Deal has become a point of discussion in the political debate in the run-up to the European elections in June 2024.

Rabobank released a report this week outlining the pros and cons of EU green policies for farmers in the EU-27 and the likely impact of the election cycle on pending regulation.

Over the past four years, the EU has made addressing climate change a top priority; we have seen a raft of new legislation and revisions of existing ones under the umbrella of the EU Green Deal with the goal of reaching climate neutrality for the EU-27 by 2050. 

However, it is unclear whether the EU’s current parliament and council will agree with the outstanding proposals and adopt legislation before next year’s elections. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether a new commission and parliament will pursue a similar agenda, warned Harry Smit, senior analyst, farm inputs and farming and Barend Bekamp, specialist, food & agriculture, at Rabobank.

Proposals that have not yet been adopted include the legislation around pesticide use and animal welfare and they could be undermined by political maneuvers over the coming months, they told FeedNavigator.

The Commission has yet to propose new animal welfare ​legislation; its fate could be left hanging in the balance, cautioned the analysts. “That is one of those areas where there has been a big discrepancy between ambitions within the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy and what has actually put out in terms of new legislation. It is expected that new rules on animal transport will be presented by the Commission at the end of this year, but in relation to housing systems and slaughtering it is still unclear as to when new proposals will be put forward,” said Bekamp.

Debates around environmental policies at the EU level may be slightly less contentious, as most member states buy into the idea of quality air and water for all, said Smit.

However, in the case of animal welfare approaches, he noted there are starker differences between member states. “Germany is very ambitious in the field of animal welfare but the same can’t be said for some Eastern European countries, and, as a result, I expect it will be more challenging to reach a common agreement on new welfare legislation."

Pesticide plan

The Commission’s proposal on chemical pesticides sets legally binding targets to reduce their use by 50% by 2030, in line with F2F goals.

The EU Parliament and the Council are currently thrashing out their final positions on that plan, and Bekamp anticipates more intense debate on this key file to come.

Ambitious goals

The targets around pesticides, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water quality, biodiversity, and nature are ambitious and may pose a challenge for farmers to keep up, said Bekamp.

“There are pros and cons to the Green Deal, and which ones have the upper hand depends on your perspective."

Some pig producers, he continued, may argue that EU regulations in the fields of the environment and animal welfare have the potential to generate a cost increase at the farm level, and that the global competitiveness of European agriculture may be affected by these standards, that compliance costs may damage the competitive position of the EU on export markets.

But he acknowledged that the “Green Deal and affiliated strategies ensure a level playing field in Europe and create market opportunities for innovative techniques, products, and practices.”

Getting Green Deal over the finish line

According to Smit, the topic of climate change is not going away any time soon despite the indications of decreased EU ambition in relation to the green dream. “The speed of adoption of new legislation may slow, but the urgency to tackle environmental issues will remain in place.”

Recent commentary by APCO Worldwide, an advisory and advocacy communications consultancy, echoes some of the views of the Rabobank team. That consultancy believes the completion of the Green Deal agenda by the current executive and legislative bodies of the EU is far from secure​ despite the ongoing pressure from civil society and green lawmakers.

“Although the elections are less than a year away, key pieces of legislation still need to be proposed and will likely slip into the next Commission’s mandate.”

The consultants see that within European institutions, political shifts have started to endanger the will to get the Green Deal over the finish line.

“The recent reshuffle in the EU Commission added to this uncertainty after former Commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, the face of the bloc’s green ambitions, chose to step down from his position. The new commissioners for climate action—Wopke Hoekstra—and for the Green Deal—Maroš Šefčovič—will be challenged to sustain the same level of ambition for green policies in the waning months of the mandate.”

And polling ahead of the 2024 European elections suggests that traditional moderate parties on both the left and right may lose seats, while right-wing populists could gain substantial ground, they added.

“In powerful EU member states like Germany, France, and Italy, right to far-right parties are projected to consolidate gains made over the last few years. This shift will undoubtedly influence environmental and climate policies during the new mandate, as seen in the current EU mandate where right-leaning groups have attempted to dilute or stall legislation.”

Sustainable food systems law

October also saw the European Food Policy Coalition publish an open letter​ to Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, urging the lawmaker to present "the promised and much needed" Sustainable Food Systems Law during this mandate.

The organizations involved expressed concern over the absence of the EU legislative framework for Sustainable Food Systems (FSFS), alongside other Green Deal files such as on animal welfare, from the Commission 2024 Work Program.

In addition, the letter outlined the signatories’ priorities that need to be met for the announced ‘strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture’ to be fruitful. 

Related topics Regulation Swine Europe Sustainability

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