Political hotspot

The EU’s State of the Union (SOTEU), a moment during which the Commission President reflects upon past achievements and lays down ambitions for the months to come, took place on 13 September. In case of this SOTEU, the months to come are only few given the EU elections foreseen in June 2024. As such, either current initiatives and laws are published prior to the EU elections, or it is not yet possible to predict what will happen to them. Indeed, it is possible that the next EU elections will shift political priorities within the Parliament. 

Moreover, only days prior to the SOTEU, the European Green Deal, or the flagship initiative of the Von der Leyen Commission, lost its chief advocator Frans Timmermans. Mr Timmermans returned to national politics and has in the meantime been replaced by Executive Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, a Slovak national who since 2019 served as Vice-President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations. While we wish Executive Vice-President Šefčovič the best in his new role, it is undeniable that the European Green Deal has lost its most committed defender with Timmermans’ departure. 

During her SOTEU address, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen mentioned the importance of biodiversity, rural areas, and the farming community. Her statement “biodiversity and farming can go hand in hand” is proven right every day by organic farmers. In addition, we welcome that Von der Leyen also thanked farmers for their tireless work, particularly during the Covid-pandemic and since the war in Ukraine. However, two big elephants in the room were not mentioned: the sustainable food system and animal welfare proposals. So, let us take a look at the recent political ambition displayed by the Commission when it comes to the European Green Deal and sustainable food systems more specifically.  

Prior to the SOTEU, rumours had been mounting as to whether the sustainable food systems as well as the animal welfare proposals would be published after all by the Commission. As such, IFOAM Organics Europe, together with 160 NGOs for the sustainable food systems law and 600+ NGOs for the animal welfare proposals, insisted through open letters to publish both laws.  

Both foreseen in the Farm to Fork strategy, and both expected to be published still this year, it is unclear what the Commission’s intentions are for these two files. A recent Financial Times article even stated that “Three EU officials with knowledge of the matter said the commission had dropped the [animal welfare] proposals completely — along with a sustainable food law designed to boost green food production across the bloc. But another official said it was reviewing the animal welfare plan and would propose a scaled-back version.”  

More generally, NGOs in Brussels cannot help but notice that the environmental ambition of the EU institutions has scaled back compared to 2019 and 2020. Another example is that of the Nature Restoration Law (NRL). Published as a key deliverable and centrepiece of EU’s biodiversity policy, the NRL was met with fierce opposition and a misinformation campaign, driven by the European People Party in the Parliament (EPP) and COPA-COGECA scaremongering that nature restoration and biodiversity protection threaten our food security. In the end, the conservative and right-wing politicians in the Parliament did not succeed in rejecting and derailing the Commission’s proposal, but the MEPs in plenary adopted their position only by a narrow majority of 36 votes. This also came at a high cost, as the Parliament’s position significantly weakened the Commission’s approach and scrapped the proposed article on the restoration of agricultural ecosystems altogether. 

The letter of intent, or the Commission’s work programme for 2024, is expected in September-October 2023 and will give a more definite direction of which actions are to be carried out during these last months of this Commission. IFOAM Organics Europe’s challenge and opportunity will be to maintain organic at the top of the political agenda and show that organic is cross-political: its principles, practices, and market are an asset for every political party. 

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