Accumulating debts, a non-existent salary and a lack of recognition drove French farmer 52 year-old Vincent to take his life, explains his relative in a French newspaper. In his last message, Vincent wrote that he no longer had the strength to fight.
Farmers are desperate, not all as desperate as Vincent. Many choose to take to the streets with their tractors. Waves of farmers' protests have taken place in all corners of Europe, the latest in Slovenia and before that in the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany. The harsh economic reality is hitting hard: rising interest rates and prices for energy and fertiliser.
And then there are the greening measures, demands to cut the use of fertilisers, of pesticides and to reduce the area of productive land used by farms. The green goals widely promoted all over the EU unfairly present farming as a problem, as old-fashioned polluters. Unfortunately we cannot count on the Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski to do anything about it. Despite years of progress on the reduction of pesticides, antibiotics and emissions, farmers feel they are not listened to or respected. This has to change urgently.
The Green Deal risks polarising rural communities against the EU and the European climate and biodiversity goals.
We support a green transition for the farming sector. But many of the legislative proposals put forward by the Commission are poorly targeted and will do more harm to our food production than good to our environment. Also, as the proposals pile up, the combined effect creates an asphyxiating bureaucratic burden. Instead of a hopeful perspective for the future, the Green Deal risks polarising rural communities against the EU and the European climate and biodiversity goals.
While Europeans suffer daily from inflation, driven by energy prices but primarily by increasing food prices, the Commission's proposals on plant protection, for example, would lower food production from certain sectors up to 30 percent. In the worst-case scenario, Europe is expected to produce 30 percent less apples and olives, 23 percent less tomatoes and 15 percent less wheat. This means less productivity, which will drive up consumer prices without resulting in a better income for farmers.
Another example, the Nature Restoration Regulation, could significantly reduce the amounts of land for farm use. The Commission is pressing ahead with legislation without really knowing what the social and economic consequences are. That is why the EPP Group is working hard to make sure that the proposal is rejected.
Also, popular misconceptions about rural areas don't help to include rural concerns in achieving our climate goals. To avoid our farmers being unfairly branded as defenders of old-fashioned farming, we should realise that agriculture is one of the high-tech sectors of Europe. To reduce the necessary production inputs, satellite-driven precision farming is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Another misconception is that farmers do not care about climate change. In fact, no other sector is so directly affected by droughts, floods and heat waves as consequences of climate change.
The reality is that rising food prices are already a more important factor of inflation than higher energy costs. Reducing our capacity to produce food in Europe with new EU legislation will increase our dependency on imports from abroad and further drive up prices for citizens. This is why the EPP Group will do whatever it can to stop these proposals from turning into law.
Ultimately, our big question is, do we want to maintain European farming and food production that works under the highest safety standards, or are we outsourcing our farmers to buy an excellent green conscious? Hasn't Europe already learnt its lesson with all the industries that went to China because it was cheaper or they were too polluting?
For us in the EPP, the answer is clear: we can only achieve our climate goals with farmers, not against them, and if we want to remain independent in our food production, continue to produce affordable, high-quality food and reach our climate objectives, farms and thriving rural communities are crucial for Europe for decades to come.
Note to editors
The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 176 Members from all EU Member States