Cristina Alonso Madrid


Updated Monday, February 26, 2024-01:51

"The head of the revolt of European agriculture ministers."

This is how Luis Planas

was baptized by

the then vice-president of the European Commission,

Frans Timmermans

, in the most complex moments of the negotiation of the latest reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the seed of the current mobilization of the countryside, which cries out against the approach environmental and regulatory and bureaucratic burden.

The anecdote was revealed by the minister himself during an informative breakfast last Thursday and serves as a prelude to the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers being held this Monday in Brussels.

"He told me in private, he didn't dare to do it in public," Planas joked, later ensuring that he accepted the title of


of the ministerial rebellion in the European field "with great honor."

"But not because I was against the

Green Deal or

the Farm to Fork


, at all. How can I be, being a member of this Government! Simply and plainly, because I said that what had to be done, had to be done. do it hand in hand with farmers and ranchers and all the objectives had to be clearly established and with phases and schedules that were possible," the minister stated.

Almost three years after that arduous negotiation, European Agriculture ministers meet this Monday to jointly address "rapid and structural responses to the current crisis situation in the agricultural sector", according to the agenda.

The meeting coincides with the celebration of a massive tractor rally in Madrid, this time called by the three most representative agricultural professional organizations:

Asaja, UPA and Coag.

Spain has already made a move for this match, putting pressure at the highest level.

The President of the Government himself,

Pedro Sánchez

, has asked by letter to the President of the European Commission,

Ursula Von der Leyen

, to address the "just" demands of Spanish farmers.

Brussels, for its part, has opened up to easing certain environmental requirements and reducing inspections as part of a package of concessions to appease rural protests.

But, beyond the demands for simplification and flexibility of the CAP, Sánchez's letter to Von der Leyen introduces a

workhorse that will confront the countries in the negotiation in Brussels: the mirror clauses


What are they and what do they imply?

Simplifying, they are the reciprocity conditions that Spanish or French farmers are demanding to include in the trade agreements that the European Commission negotiates with third countries so that imported products comply with the same standards, controls and regulations that are required of farmers and farmers who produce here and thus avoid unfair competition.

Even Minister Planas has recognized that "there is a problem of unfair competition in the primary sector."

Although he has also admitted that, at this time, he does not have the qualified majority necessary in the EU to carry out the mirror clauses.

Why don't all countries agree?

Simply because, although some, such as Spain, France, Italy or Portugal, are clearly exporters, others, mainly the Baltics and the Nordics, in particular Germany or Denmark, are clearly importers and, therefore, are not interested in the introduction that reciprocity in conditions because they are not large producers and because

they fear reprisals in their exports

of other products and services from third countries.

"It is an issue that I plan to reiterate, but that we will obviously not be able to close next Monday, because it is an issue that has more scope," Minister Planas assumed last Thursday.

Thus, the head of Agriculture already

considered the negotiation lost

, at least at this time.

But does Spain have any real option to introduce mirror clauses in EU trade agreements with third parties?

"A dead end"

The room for maneuver is tight.

"The idea of ​​imposing mirror clauses so that the imported product meets the same conditions sounds very good, but it is complex," says Tomás García Azcárate, an agronomist and economist specialized in the CAP.

The measure mainly raises two fronts:

the socio-labor

front , which involves demanding that third countries work with the same working conditions as the EU, and

the phytosanitary front

, which involves forcing them to comply with the regulations on chemical products and their sustainable use.

"The first is

a dead end

, because working conditions are not even the same between EU countries, with large differences, for example, between minimum wages," says the also vice-director of the Institute of Economics, Geography and Demography (IEGD). -CSIC).

And on the second front, in the case of the importation of zero-waste products,

"we have no legal argument or legal basis

," he says.

"In the framework of a trade agreement, preferential access conditions could be agreed for certain imports if they respect a series of requirements, but this, if it is not another dead end, is undoubtedly an uphill climb," warns the expert.

In the case of products with residue, Spain is going to propose to the EU that, "when necessary, for substances that are not authorized in the EU, and the European Commission has not established the maximum residue limit, Spain, preventively, it will set it to zero.

"This can be proposed and there would be the possibility that, pending the community decision, it could be applied unilaterally provisionally," advances García Azcárate, who considers that this would be "a passable road", although he warns that " poses a problem of freedom of movement of goods" and "it is possible that third countries will retaliate and

we will enter into a dynamic of sanctions", as already happened with the United States

as a consequence of the ban on imports of beef treated with hormones .

It is, therefore, very complex for countries in favor of mirror clauses to manage to convince the rest to incorporate them into trade agreements such as


or those that are being negotiated with countries such as

Chile, Mexico, India, Kenya or Australia.

This is admitted by Minister Planas himself, who is going to fight in Brussels to push forward the package of farmers' demands that has to do with making the CAP conditionality more flexible and simplifying bureaucracy.

Concessions that, in principle, do not satisfy the professional agricultural organizations, which keep the pulse in the streets with a calendar of mobilizations that extends until the month of June.