Pablo R. Suanzes Brussels


Updated Monday, February 26, 2024-17:01

On February 1, farmers' associations from all over Europe collapsed a large part of the European neighborhood of Brussels to give visibility to their demands, taking advantage of a summit that brought together all the heads of State and Government.

They asked for more and better aid,

a "regulatory pause" of at least two years in what affects the green transition

, but also phytosanitary regulations.

They demanded "

mirror clauses

" so that the same requirements to which EU producers are obliged are demanded from those outside the EU.

And measures for a future enlargement of the Union that gives entry to poor countries and agricultural powers such as Ukraine.

That day hundreds of tractors closed the streets adjacent to the European Parliament, but they did so with permits, in an orderly manner and without the slightest incident with law enforcement.

They made some bonfires, destroyed some motorcycles and scooters and even vandalized an important statue in Luxembourg Square, but the Police did not intervene.

This Monday, those who met in Brussels are the Ministers of Agriculture, and despite the permits, since farmers were authorized to close the Rue de la Loi, where the main institutions of the city are located, for the entire day , the clashes

have been permanent and violent


The images are of tractors charging at the agents, forcibly removing the barricades or breaking through rows of cars.

The protests are the same, the demands are the same, the methods have been radicalized.

Charges, tear gas, water bombs against burning tires have been seen a few meters from the Commission or the Council buildings, where the ministers met.

Access has been limited or prohibited for hours, and community institutions have invited their officials to telework as much as possible to avoid problems.

The field knows that

it has a position of strength and is taking advantage of the moment to go as far as it can


They have the sympathy, the support or at least they do not have any opposition from political parties, right or left, nor from governments and not even from the citizens harmed by the demonstrations or traffic jams.

So they take advantage with little opposition and the surprising passivity of the law enforcement forces, who have barely reacted and have not even tried to stop the drivers who attacked the patrol cars, clearly putting their safety at risk.

They know that this will not last long, but there are

European elections in June

, the field has proven decisive in Poland or Hungary recently, and even the European Commission is backing down.

President Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking a second term, withdrew her legislative proposal for pesticides two weeks ago, presented a document a few days ago to reduce the bureaucratic burden to which farmers and ranchers are subjected, and has given substantial weight to "structured dialogue" with the sector to redefine the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the future.

Politicians have asked for a meeting with the leaders of the protests, just as the prime ministers did a month ago.

National governments have quickly taken the baton and are hurrying.

They want to calm the protests and avoid more fights before going to the polls


"We are going to ask the European Commission to accelerate in those points where it is necessary to modify a legislative instrument, to quickly make a proposal so that even before the end of this legislature, in an accelerated procedure, the European Council and Parliament are in a position to adopt it," explained the Spanish minister, Luis Planas upon his arrival at the Council of Ministers of Agriculture, whose agenda is entirely dedicated to the issue.

The Belgian presidency, which has responsibility for the Council of the EU this semester, explained this afternoon, after the meeting of ministers, that after having asked everyone to fill out a series of questionnaires, they have compiled up to 500 specific suggestions for this new CAP and They have been sent to the European Commission.

There are two big questions.

On the one hand, money.

The CAP takes up around 30% of the community budget, but it has been reduced for some time.

Already in the last negotiation for the period 2021-2027, it was clear that the majority of capitals advocate "modernizing" the European economy, thinking more about technology and digitalization, and that implies removing subsidies and aid.

There is not a huge appetite to change that dynamic, although the pandemic, problems in global supply chains and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have caused some governments to reflect and now say that actually devoting 0.4% or 0 .5% of GDP to help the sector that has to provide food security in a troubled world is not that much.

The green transition has also increased costs

, and competition from outside the EU is fierce.

Legitimate, part of the market economy, but in many cases it does not imply the same efforts and sacrifices as those who farm in Africa or Latin America, not to mention Ukraine.

But if the issue of money is difficult, the issue of regulation has much more room for action.

Community regulations are broad, exhaustive, and require

an infinite number of papers, permits, controls, declarations


The list is immense, which represents an undoubted burden for the sector, especially small producers.

"There is a need to simplify the requests for CAP applications or to limit the requirements for georeferenced photos. The 50% reduction in controls on farms of less than 10 hectares would mean that 55% of Spanish filers would be exempt from certain conditionality", explained Minister Planas.

For example, Spain has presented at the meeting a battery of ideas, like its colleagues, to reform the CAP, making it much more flexible, acceptable, and faster.

And also fairer, because fundamentally there is a question of who receives the aid, whether to large or small farmers and producers.

The proposals are very technical and have to do with

conditionality above all


To receive EU income support, farmers must respect a set of basic rules.

The interaction between respect for these rules and the support provided to farmers is called conditionality.

Rules that farmers are expected to comply with include statutory management requirements (GRLs), which apply to all farmers, whether or not they receive support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

And the good agricultural and environmental conditions (BCAM), which only apply to farmers who receive aid under the CAP.

Changes in conditions

In this context, Spain requests many changes in the BCAM.

For example, that the EU

authorizes vertical tillage of the soil

(plowing without turning the land) in stubble, especially if it has rained after the harvest and weeds have proliferated.

And also that green fertilization is allowed (plowing by burying the fresh leaves and stems of certain plants so that they serve as nutrients for the subsequent crop), since this helps protect against erosion and recycle nutrients.

Another example.

BCAM 7 and 8 require rotations on croplands of more than 10 hectares, so that after three years all plots have been rotated.

It also requires crop diversification or that a minimum percentage of the agricultural area be dedicated to non-productive surfaces or elements (which serve as habitat for pollinators or auxiliary fauna, improve biodiversity, etc.).

What Minister Planas has proposed to the Commission or his colleagues is that

these BCAMs be repealed by 2024

, as was done in 2023, or at least irrigated croplands be exempt



In this way, for example, corn farmers in Castilla y León and other areas could sow the entire surface of corn, without having to dedicate a part to rotation or fallow," explains the Ministry.