Ursula von der Leyen’ slip-up on agriculture did not pass unnoticed by lawmakers, who voiced regret that the Commission president-elect did not mention at all the farming sector in the first speech she addressed to the plenary in Strasbourg last Tuesday (16 July).
Von der Leyen did not even come back to the subject in her two replies during the debate with MEPs, although she was prodded by Green MEPs to say something on climate ambition in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) proposal.
EURACTIV caught a bit of the disappointment from the MEPs longer interested in agriculture while they were walking down halls and corridors of the Strasbourg parliamentary’s building on the way to their offices.
It was recognised as a flaw in her speech even by lawmakers of her own European People’s Party (EPP). “It is unacceptable to discuss exclusively environment and climate and not to mention agriculture, since these three concepts are interdependent,” said centre-right Romanian MEP Daniel Buda, who was recently voted as vice-chair of the Agriculture committee (AGRI).
He said the common goal is a clean environment, but to achieve this, we have to ensure that farmers do not become the most vulnerable link of the ecosystem. “Farmers should not be overburdened with extra environmental conditionalities,” he added. Experienced MEP Paolo De Castro, elected as the new coordinator for the socialists (S&D) in AGRI committee, said he did not expect a mention of the CAP, though he would have enjoyed it very much.
“Generally speaking, I thought it was a good speech, particularly for the fact that it was addressed to pro-European forces, leaving on the margins Eurosceptic groups,” he said
In the meeting with the socialist group, however, von der Leyen did mention the importance of farmers’ role, the Italian MEP confirmed, adding that the choice she will make on the next Agriculture Commissioner will provide more hints about her ambition. According to Spanish MEP Mazaly Aguilar, who sits with conservatives of the ECR, von der Leyen used the environment as a “sexy topic” to make “new friends” in the European Parliament.
“Very soon we will make her understand that the best way to protect the environment is through farming and a strong CAP,” she said, adding that top politicians should speak up for agriculture, one of the main EU policies. Aguilar is a candidate for the third vice-presidency of AGRI but her election is not completely sure as she’s affiliated to right-wing populist VOX party, which is also considered worthy of a cordon sanitaire by other political groups.
Greens harsh opposition
During the debate in Strasbourg, Green MEPs were the most vocal critics of von der Leyen’s omission, as they don’t want farming to fall by the wayside as the next Commission raises its efforts in dealing with the climate crisis. The Greens coordinator in the AGRI committee, German MEP Martin Häusling, regretted very much that von der Leyen didn’t commit herself to the so-called ‘green architecture’ for the next CAP.
Häusling said he could only guess why she was not answering the raised questions on strengthening biodiversity, environment, climate and animal welfare. “It might be that von der Leyen was under political pressure as the former rapporteur of the European Parliament on the Strategic Plan, Mrs Esther Herranz-Garcia, was EPP,” he said.
Although Herranz-Garcia was not re-elected, she was backed in her positioning on the CAP report by her political group, the Greens MEP pointed out. According to the Greens, EPP’s AGRI members in the past legislative terms were preventing the creation of a sustainable CAP and, therefore, von der Leyen might have feared losing votes from her own political group if she raised her climate ambition in the agricultural policy in her speech.
“Another option, a very alarming and quite difficult one, would be that von der Leyen might share the EPP’s point of view,” Häusling added. On the sidelines of the debate, vice-chair of Environment Committee (ENVI), Bas Eickhout, told EURACTIV the new President-elect was vague when it comes to the future of EU agriculture, and consequently also about a third of the entire EU budget.
“Not only in her speech yesterday, but also when she visited our group, and in the document with political priorities that she circulated only hours before the vote, and for the Greens, it was one of the reasons to vote against her nomination,” he said.
However, the Greens/EFA group will be at von der Leyen’s disposal to give all explanations needed for a better understanding of its view on the current agriculture-supporting system. “The EU is wasting billions of taxpayers money to subsidise agricultural practices that are harmful to the climate and for biodiversity,” Eickout said.
He added that the CAP reform proposed by the previous Commission, which is currently being discussed, does not do anything to change the status quo and that the Greens will demand a new proposal from von der Leyen’s Commission.