May 24. 2024. 5:11

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Commission’s actions on fertilisers not long-term enough, MEPs warn

European lawmakers see Commission’s recent communication on fertilisers as just a first step to ensuring the EU’s strategic autonomy in this sector, suggesting to consider more long-term actions to support struggling farmers.

During an extensive plenary debate on Thursday (16 February), MEPs passed a non-legislative resolution on the EU executive’s communication to ensure the availability and affordability of fertilisers in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The resolution, led by German centre-right MEP Norbert Lins on behalf of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI), urges the European Commission to pursue other ways to reduce the bloc’s dependence on imported fertilisers and reverse the curve of soaring prices.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski responded that the executive’s communication in November ‘outlined several measures’ – short term and long term – to address the fertiliser crisis, but that it is now up to member states to implement them.

“Luckily, the high prices have gone down a little, and we have a reverse trend,” the Commissioner added, comparing current prices with the ones before the communication, “so this has brought certain positive results.”

However, he acknowledged that the situation remains ‘critical’ for farmers and announced that the crisis reserve – an emergency budget under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – will be activated for countries that border Ukraine and farmers affected by the excessive imports disrupting the market.

Ukrainian agri exports set to continue despite disruption for EU farmers

The European Commission has vowed to continue Ukrainian agricultural exports, intending to address the mounting reports of market disruption at the war-torn country’s borders through Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support measures.

But lawmakers have warned that the executive’s plan to use the crisis reserve and increase the state aid ceiling will not do the trick while calling for an EU fertiliser strategy ‘that looks to the future.’

“The communication is not enough,” said Spanish socialist MEP Clara Aguilera, adding that an ‘authentic’ long-term fertiliser strategy should develop “a European industry with new fertilisers that are not dependent on third countries.”

She also added that, despite Spain recently allocating €300 million to aid farmers, “not all countries can afford it at all times.”

On the other hand, centre-right Irish MEP Colm Markey called for “additional funding to support the industry in the short term,” such as removing anti-dumping measures which would scrap duties on fertilisers from outside the EU and bring prices down.

He also criticised that the Commission has left the fertilisers crisis in the hands of each member state while calling for a “European intervention to support all countries, not just some.”

But for the Greens and the Left groups, the short-term vision of centre-right and conservative groups risks undermining the EU’s climate ambitions.

“The now tabled fertiliser resolution is on many levels problematic,” said Austrian Green MEP Thomas Waitz, “instead of helping farmers decrease their dependence and the use of Russian or US fracking gas, the European People’s Party (EPP) demands to cough up more money for fertilisers.”

“What you can see is the attempt by the conservatives to undermine the EU Green Deal again,” he added.

Additionally, Duch leftist MEP Anja Hazekamp raised that “artificial fertilisers and too much manure are damaging to soils” and “without healthy soil, we cannot grow food.”

“Almost three-quarters of our soils are in a bad state,” she said, asking the Commission whether the long-awaited EU soil nutrient strategy can still be expected by June 2023.

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Commission in a deadlock

But this is not the first time the Commission has reiterated that it has exhausted all options to help lower input costs and thereby bring down food prices, leaving it in member states’ hands.

The Commissioner’s main concrete suggestion to bolster the sector was to raise the budget of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the next 2028-2034 EU financial period.

This is because inflation devalues the CAP while farming revenue “has not risen to an extent equal or sufficient to compensate [for] inflation”.

According to the Commissioner, the policy – which is worth one-third of the EU budget but the equivalent of only 0.4% of EU GDP – is “not enough” to safeguard food and environmental security while also protecting the sector against unexpected knocks.

“Our farmers are up to the task, but they are working under challenging circumstances,” he said, stressing the need for more support in the future.

In an interview in November 2022, he told EURACTIV that it would be “impossible to ensure food security with such a small budget” in the long term, echoing the suggestion again at a recent European Parliament plenary meeting.

EU hits wall in fight against soaring food, fertiliser prices

The European Commission has exhausted all options to tackle soaring food and input prices, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told EU lawmakers, reiterating that the only way forward is to increase the EU farming subsidy budget.