Euroviews. This is why green activists joined farmers protests for fairer EU farming policies

Tractors are parked near the European Parliament during a protest by farmers as European leaders meet for an EU summit in Brussels, February 2024
Tractors are parked near the European Parliament during a protest by farmers as European leaders meet for an EU summit in Brussels, February 2024 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Clara Bourgin
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Governments need to address the real issues faced by farmers: fair incomes, workers’ rights, and the shift towards local and agroecological food systems, Clara Bourgin writes.

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As social justice and environmental activists, we joined the farmers' protest in Brussels. 

We hear the frustrations of farmers who grapple with low incomes, a lack of future prospects, and the consequences of decades of unsustainable policies. 

We share their fight for a fairer agriculture system and their call to end the EU-Mercosur free-trade deal.

Many farmers’ anger is legitimate. But after years of it being ignored by political leaders, it is now dangerously being exploited by some conservative and far-right parties and agro-industrial lobbies, like COPA-COGECA, trying to shatter green objectives and commitments. 

Environmental legislation is not the enemy; denying the realities of the climate and biodiversity crises will only intensify the challenges farmers face, from heatwaves to floods and droughts. 

The next European Commission needs to steer the transition of our agricultural and food systems in a fair, just and climate-friendly way. 

What we absolutely do not need are more quick fixes and false corporate promises which have already led us to this dead-end.

The protest should not be instrumentalised for backtracking

For over sixty years, European farming policies and subsidies have fuelled the industrialisation of our agriculture, relying heavily on fossil fuels, fertilizers and pesticides. 

More than 80% of subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are still going to 20% of European farms, promoting large-scale industrial production and land concentration. 

This model, in addition to its devastating environmental and health toll, traps farmers in a vicious cycle of ever-increasing spending and no guarantee of proper income. 

It does however largely benefits big agribusiness and food corporations. 

To now be using farmers' protests to further backtrack on environmental measures — such as the derogation on fallow land at the EU level and the pause on the plan to cut pesticide use in France — is deeply cynical, to say the least.
A plastic cow painted with the colors of the EU flag is held up by a strap from a tractor during a demonstration of farmers outside the European Parliament, January 2024
A plastic cow painted with the colors of the EU flag is held up by a strap from a tractor during a demonstration of farmers outside the European Parliament, January 2024AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

No wonder they have been the ones to orchestrate an intense lobbying campaign against a meaningful reform of the CAP and the European Green Deal’s farming objectives in the last few years. 

To now be using farmers' protests to further backtrack on environmental measures — such as the derogation on fallow land at the EU level and the pause on the plan to cut pesticide use in France — is deeply cynical, to say the least.

Agreements favouring corporate giants are at the root of the issue

In several European countries, such as France, Spain and Belgium, farmers are demanding to stop the EU-Mercosur deal and other free-trade agreements currently under negotiation by the European Union. 

These agreements also favour corporate giants like BASF, Bayer and Cargil, and undermine the viability of small-scale, family farmers and hinder the transition to sustainable food and farming systems. 

An EU-Mercosur deal would further expose European farmers to compete with imported food that is produced with pesticides actually forbidden in the EU.
People gather outside the European Parliament during a protest by farmers as European leaders meet for an EU summit in Brussels, February 2024
People gather outside the European Parliament during a protest by farmers as European leaders meet for an EU summit in Brussels, February 2024AP Photo/Thomas Padilla

An EU-Mercosur deal would further expose European farmers to compete with imported food that is produced with pesticides actually forbidden in the EU.

Pesticides that the EU itself is producing and exporting, with disastrous impacts on local populations and the environment. Free-trade agreements weaken local economies, food sovereignty and peasants’ rights.

That is among the reasons why environmentalists have long been fighting alongside peasant movements against these unjust trade deals.

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We are in dire need of a genuine transformation

Governments need to address the real issues faced by farmers: fair incomes, workers’ rights, and the shift towards local and agroecological food systems. 

Many farmers are ready for change, but this is incompatible with producing at the lowest prices in a globalised and deregulated market. 

A genuine transformation of agricultural policies, placing farmers — and especially small and medium-scale farmers — at the forefront of decision-making processes, is essential for this transition to become a reality.

We joined farmers, among which our allies from La Via Campesina, on the streets of Brussels to demand an immediate end to negotiations on the EU-Mercosur trade agreement and public support for a real transition to more sustainable agricultural models that benefit people and farmers.

Clara Bourgin is food, agriculture and nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

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