Will the EU achieve its organic farming ambitions before the 2024 elections?

Industry / Bulgaria , Green Transition
3E news
article picture alt description

Photo: Needpix

Iva Ivanova

With the European elections approaching, it is time to determine the legacy of the Green Deal for agriculture and food policy as lawmakers scramble to save climate protection powers from this legislative mandate. With this announcement, EURACTIV published an overview article - part of a special report of the publication on the last stage of the EU before June 2024.

The EU elections in June 2024 are already casting their shadow over EU policy-making - any directive or regulation not adopted before then faces an uncertain future under the new Parliament and Commission.

The pressure of time is already being felt in EU agriculture and food policy, where delaying or pushing through laws has become a political tool, the paper concludes.

Meanwhile, as EU party groups enter campaign mode, food and farming issues themselves are becoming increasingly politicised.

What does all this mean for the current Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU and what to expect after the summer break? EURACTIV takes a look at the busy political season ahead:

Green Deal initiatives - do they still have a chance?

Among the proposals already on the table but still going through the legislative process are several key files of the Green Deal, the EU's flagship policy for environmental sustainability.

The notorious Nature Restoration Law (NRL), which has recently been at the center of controversy in the EU legislative process, includes several provisions related to the restoration of agricultural systems, including compensation measures for landowners and whether to use the subsidy budget for EU agriculture policy for recovery efforts.

After the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) campaigned against the law, its fate was in the balance, but the European Parliament plenary supported the law in a vote in mid-July.

Subsequently, on 19 July, the Parliament started inter-institutional talks with EU ministers. Although they can often be withdrawn, in this case an agreement could soon be reached as the Parliament has already moved closer to the Council's position in the plenary vote.

Meanwhile, time is running out on another key proposal belonging to the Green Deal bloc, the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR), in which the Commission proposed to halve the use and risk of pesticides by 2030.

The controversial law, already proposed months later than planned, has been subject to further delays, which activists and green lawmakers suspect are a tactical maneuver to delay the agreement until it is too late.

As the parliamentary committee vote was delayed for several months and the Council only recently received the additional impact study it requested from the Commission, there is reason to believe that the law may not be ratified in time before the elections.

Also, still in the process of adoption is the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), with which the Commission aims to limit harmful emissions from industrial installations – including large livestock farms.

After MEPs recently voted their mandate, negotiations between the Parliament and the Council have already started. However, the Commission is concerned that their proposal could be "significantly" watered down by the two legislators - especially when it comes to the threshold for agricultural emissions, as well as the inclusion of emissions from cattle.

The EU executive is also expected to table its proposal for a law on sustainable food systems in the third quarter of 2023. Initially touted as comprehensive legislation on the Farm to Fork strategy - the agri-food component of the Green Deal - green campaigners fear, that the proposal may ultimately focus more on food security.

The task of saving the initial ambition of the Green Deal may prove more difficult following the likely departure from Brussels of its staunchest defender, Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, after throwing his hat in the Dutch election race.

Gene editing and 'sustainable resource use'

In early July, the Commission proposed loosening EU rules on new genomic techniques (NGTs), a term used for scientific methods to change specific characteristics of crops. However, this controversial initiative is unlikely to be completed before the elections.

Although the issue is a priority for the Spanish Presidency, some opposition came from the European Greens, from several countries, as well as from the EU organic sector, and many involved do not seem to expect an agreement before the end of the current mandate.

The NGT proposal is part of a wider package proposed by the Commission, among other things, a soil monitoring law and a review of the seed marketing framework, which now face an equally tight deadline.

However, an agreement on the soil monitoring initiative may be easier to reach, as the project presented by the EU executive is already much less ambitious compared to what the "soil health law" originally envisaged ".

As part of the review of the EU Waste Framework Directive, the Commission has also tabled a proposal that includes legally binding national targets to reduce food waste by 2030 in households, restaurants and shops, as well as in the food manufacturing and processing sector.

Although the proposal is the first of its kind, campaign groups have warned that the EU executive's ambitions are not yet strong enough, as they fall short of the reduction targets set by the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

Animal Welfare, Food Labeling: They Will, Right?

After successfully passing the first stage of bringing in a major overhaul of animal welfare rules - the Regulatory Scrutiny Board's (RSB) quality control - the EU executive is confident the new legislation will be proposed before the end of the year.

However, there is still a long way to go to agree the text the Commission will propose - and the run-up to the European elections in June 2024 could prove to be a game-changer, according to the Greens and Socialist MEPs.

Another long-awaited but still pending Commission proposal is the revision of EU food labeling rules. However, although the initiative was originally set to be tabled before the end of 2022 and then postponed until the spring of this year, there is still no movement and it remains to be seen whether it will be tabled at all. At least the German government seems to have abandoned the proposal.

What's coming in the fall – and beyond

With the current EU approval for glyphosate set to expire in December, the question of whether to re-approve the bloc's most widely used herbicide is high on the agenda – with a decision expected by autumn, a recently leaked draft report suggests.

Earlier this month, the EU's food safety authority EFSA concluded that the use of glyphosate as an active ingredient in herbicides did not raise "critical concerns", while the full report was published on Wednesday (July 26). The conviction could help pave the way for re-approval.

Another topic that should be on the agenda after the summer is related to the promotion policy, the EU funding program for the promotion of European food products in the country and abroad.

The framework is contested for promoting foods the EU otherwise seeks to reduce, such as red meat or alcohol. According to a source from the Commission, a proposal to revise this policy, which has been off the agenda for several years, can be expected in the autumn.

The Commission will also try to introduce a mechanism to stop the production of chemical pesticides that are not authorized in the EU and are still being produced for export. The initiative is expected to be shelved in the current legislative term, as it is expected to be presented in January 2024, EU sources confirmed to EURACTIV.



More from Bulgaria: