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Stagnation of financial support, imposition of environmental standards, signing of free trade agreements: many farmers hold the European Union partly responsible for their difficulties.

Why are European farmers angry with Brussels?

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Farmers demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday.

  • Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair (View profile)Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

Voice synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate spoken text from written text.

“It's a cold anger that is exploding, because the economic situation is getting worse and worse for us,” explains Hadrien, a cereal producer from the Paris region, to describe the mobilization of farmers across France.

On this Wednesday morning, he decided to travel the more than 300 kilometers that separate the French capital from Brussels, to come and demonstrate in front of the Brussels headquarters of the European Parliament, which he and many colleagues hold partly responsible for their difficulties.< /p>

We care about the environment, but we cannot face the pressure alone, warns Isabel Proost, a Belgian dairy farmer.

However, agriculture is an important budget item for the European Union, and many producers and breeders benefit from subsidies.

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Isabel Proost, a dairy producer from Belgium, says she fears for the long-term survival of her farm.

The issue, underlines Luc Vernet, secretary general of the pressure group Farm Europe, is that due to inflation, financial aid is called to decrease over the coming years, while new standards will add pressure on the agricultural world.

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We see that& #x27;there is a decline in public support and an increase in standards. And they don't see how they are going to cope with this equation.

A quote from Luc Vernet, secretary general of Farm Europe

With a series of environmental measures, the European Commission's Farm to Fork strategy aims to increase the proportion of organic farming in the EU from 10% to 25% by 2030. One of the key goals is to reduce pesticide use by 50%.

These European policies are in addition to certain national measures in Member States which have raised the ire of farmers for several weeks, even several months.

En France, a tax on a fuel widely used in the agricultural sector is one of the complaints of farmers. In the Netherlands and in the Flanders region of Belgium, it was a policy on reducing nitrogen emissions that triggered the anger of producers.

However, according to Luc Vernet, even when it comes to national issues, the European Union is never far away. In the case of the Netherlands, for example, the European Commission has asked to return to European standards and no longer deviate from them, he specifies.

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Luc Vernet, from the Farm Europe group, observes a decline in support and an increase in standards for farmers.

Another challenge for farmers: meeting standards requires administrative and bureaucratic monitoring that is more difficult to achieve for small farmers than for large industries.

Clearly, one does not become a farmer to be in an office, emphasizes Luc Vernet.

Beyond the standards imposed on the continent, the economic links established by the European Union with other countries raise fears.

The EU thus intends to finalize an agreement which would facilitate trade with members of the Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay).

Many farmers fear the competition that the arrival of South American products on the European market could represent.

There is no coherence between the internal ecological transformation of the European Union, where we want to move towards more organic farming, reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers and , on the other hand, free trade agreements which lead the European Union to import agricultural products from countries which do not have at all the same environmental requirements, analyzes Olivier de Schutter, former rapporteur United Nations special on the right to food.

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Olivier de Schutter notes a paradox in the implementation of certain European policies.

The expert believes that farmers, very affected by the impacts of climate change, should become more resilient. But he calls into question the approach chosen by European leaders.

We are in a world full of paradoxes, of contradictions, and farmers feel this as a sort of contempt – to put it politely – from politicians.

A quote from Olivier de Schutter, former UN special rapporteur on the right to food

Another international issue that is a source of concern for many farmers: the triggering of the process of accession to the European Union for Ukraine, one of the world's main exporters of wheat and corn.

The lifting of customs duties on Ukrainian food products, a decision taken by the EU after the Russian invasion in 2022, has already sparked discontent among farmer groups, who demonstrated and blocked border crossings, notably in Poland, but also in Romania and Slovakia.

The dissatisfaction expressed by farmers in France, Germany and many other countries could strongly influence the political debate, in the run-up to elections which aim to renew the European Parliament, in June.

Like many politicians who want to demonstrate their support for the movement, Marion Maréchal, head of the list of Eric Zemmour's party for this election, traveled to Brussels to meet the demonstrators and encourage them to make their voices heard their voice.

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Farmers have demonstrated in several cities across Germany in recent weeks.

Olivier de Schutter recalls that the anger of the rural world has already transformed into a political party in an EU member country.

In the Netherlands, BoerBurgerBeweging, the Farmer-Citizen Movement, was created in response to mobilization against environmental standards. In the 2023 provincial elections, he even finished in first position, garnering nearly 20% of the vote.

If his performance was much less stellar in the national elections last fall, the training has the potential to become a source of inspiration for others, believes Mr. de Schutter.

I believe that throughout Europe today, politicians have heard this message, and especially on the right side of the political spectrum, says the expert, who also hears himself to stand as a candidate on an environmentalist list in the context of this election.

Olivier de Schutter affirms that parties, notably on the right and extreme right, practice bashingenvironmental standards, although, he points out, there are many other causes to explain the increase in food prices.

Will European leaders succeed in convincing the agricultural world of the merits of their project?

We must listen and meet [farmers], and we have perhaps done it insufficiently in recent years, recognizes Green MEP Philippe Lamberts.

There is a certain urgency, warns the Belgian elected official. We don't have three decades to achieve results on the environmental level.

But the results of the European elections in June could have an impact on application of certain ecological measures. Olivier de Schutter therefore expects that, given the context, certain elected officials will call for a regulatory pause in the European Union's environmental program.

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