Dispatch from Brussels: February 2024

EU elections coming. A How-to guide

Recent developments in Brussels reveal a dual focus on agricultural protests and Ursula von der Leyen’s bid for a second term leading the European Commission. The EU’s agricultural policy shift towards sustainability under the Green New Deal has sparked protests across Europe, with farmers demanding solutions for sustainable production amidst economic challenges. Meanwhile, projections for the upcoming European Parliament elections show minor shifts in party standings, with the EPP maintaining its lead. Von der Leyen’s reelection bid faces challenges due to concessions made on key issues like the Green Deal and agriculture, amid discontent and uncertainty over coalition support. Hungary’s approval of Sweden’s NATO bid reshapes northern Europe’s geopolitical dynamics.

Famers on the streets

The last month have been marked by two big factors, famers protest and the announcement from Ursula von der Leyen to run for a second mandate as head of the European Commission. 

The European Union’s agricultural policy has undergone a significant shift from its original focus on efficient food production to prevent famine, to one dominated by the Green New Deal. This shift demands reduced land use and less intensive farming methods to lower emissions, resulting in decreased farming activity and food production across Europe. Across Europe, from Poland to Portugal, angry farmers have staged protests, blocking roads, ports, and markets. Italian farmers converged on Rome, symbolically driving past the Colosseum. Cities like Paris, Lyon, Brussels, and Berlin witnessed blockades, motorway closures, and clashes with police. These protests reflect widespread concerns about the future of agriculture in Europe.

France’s Prime Minister Gabriel Attal highlights key questions: How can Europe produce more sustainably while tackling climate change and avoiding unfair competition from abroad? These questions demand urgent answers. The Netherlands, with its intensive farming practices and high nitrogen emissions, symbolizes the challenges facing European agriculture.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), long relied upon for food security, has encouraged consolidation, leaving many farms burdened with debt and struggling to compete. Recent events, including the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine, have exacerbated farmers’ challenges, with soaring costs for fuel, electricity, and fertilizers. In response, the European Commission has made concessions, delaying pesticide cuts and easing rules on Ukrainian imports.

However, tensions persist, underscoring the need for comprehensive reforms. The EU’s latest recommendations for greenhouse gas emissions include softer targets for agriculture, reflecting a recognition of the sector’s complexities and challenges. Farmers’ protests are not just about economics but also about preserving rural communities and traditional ways of life. As farmers continue to mobilize, it’s clear that agricultural policy must prioritize sustainability, resilience, and fairness.

Europe’s leaders must heed these calls for change and work collaboratively with farmers to shape policies that support their livelihoods while safeguarding the environment and ensuring food security for all. The European Commission has made multiple recent concessions and U-turn to ease tensions, with its president, Ursula von der Leyen, insisting the bloc had heard farmers’ concerns. Presenting the EU’s latest recommendations for cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the executive last week also eased up on agriculture, removing from a previous draft the stipulation that farming would have to cut non-CO2 emissions by 30% from 2015 levels.

Possible next EP

The recent projection for the upcoming European Parliament elections reveals not notable shifts in party standings compared to previous months. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) maintains its lead with 180 seats, marking its sixth consecutive gain. The center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) follows with 140 seats, while Renew Europe (RE) experiences a setback, now holding 82 seats, down from previous projections. Identity and Democracy (ID), the third-largest group, experiences a slight decline to 91 seats, ending a streak of gains.

Similarly, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) lose ground, now holding 80 seats. On the left, the Greens/European Free Alliance (G/EFA) see a modest increase to 51 seats, while the GUE/NGL (LEFT) experiences the most significant gain, adding six seats to reach 42. NonInscrits (NI) and unaffiliated parties show marginal decreases, with NI now at 49 seats and unaffiliated parties expected to hold 5 seats.

Notably, the LEFT gains come from new parties like the German Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht – Für Vernunft und Gerechtigkeit, advocating for immigration restrictions, deglobalization, and a different approach to foreign policy, particularly ending the support of Ukraine and appeasing with Russia. Sahra Wagenknecht emphasizes her party’s left-wing stance, focusing on social justice, fair wages, and a diplomatic foreign policy, distinct from both right-wing and traditional left-wing ideologies.

Second term for Ursula von der Leyen leading the European Commission

After months of speculation, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced her bid to become the lead candidate of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) for the upcoming European elections in June. Von der Leyen made the announcement during a press conference at an event from her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Berlin. “I ran in 2019 because I firmly believe in Europe. Europe is home to me, just like Lower Saxony is. And when the question came up whether I could imagine becoming President of the European Commission, I immediately said yes intuitively. Today, five years later, I am making a very conscious decision”, said VdL.

However, Ursula von der Leyen’s campaign for confirmation to the presidency of the European Commission must been marked by concessions. With less than a hundred days until the European elections, hardly a topic exists on which the consensus has reversed her stance, driven by electoral opportunism. Securing a second term requires support from various electoral colleges, including her national party, CDU, and the European People’s Party. These entities demanded concessions on the Green Deal and agriculture to reluctantly endorse her candidacy.

However, her need for absolute majority support in the European Parliament poses challenges due to discontent over her flip-flopping. Von der Leyen’s backtrack on Ukraine’s accession negotiations drew criticism, seen as irresponsible by European Greens. They questioned her commitment to the Green Deal and democratic values. While the Greens are willing to cooperate under certain conditions, discontent within other political blocs could jeopardize von der Leyen’s re-election prospects.

In 2019, she was backed in Parliament by a coalition of the conservative European People’s Party, the Socialists and the liberal Renew group. But this only gave her a slim nine-vote majority, with 383 votes. With the predicted rise of the right-wing party in the next elections, there is no telling whether the three-party coalition would have enough votes to back her again.

Legislative situation at the moment and political consensus

Despite significant opposition from a coalition of center-right and pro-famers EU lawmakers, the EU’s controversial nature restoration law has been upheld, marking a significant victory for environmental advocates amidst a surge of farmers’ protests and looming European elections. Proposed in 2022 to address the continued degradation of Europe’s ecosystems, the law aimed to restore 20% of EU land and maritime areas. However, its ambitious goals faced resistance, particularly from center-right EPP lawmakers, resulting in concessions on ambition and timelines.

The law’s adoption by the EU Parliament saw 329 votes in favor and 275 against, signaling a win for Spanish center-left S&D lawmaker Cesar Luena, who spearheaded negotiations for a compromise. Despite last-minute opposition from the EPP, the law’s passage was celebrated by green lawmakers and environmental NGOs. The law’s objectives include reviving pollinator populations, restoring peatlands and waterways, and planting three billion trees across the EU. However, concerns from farmers led to the inclusion of an “emergency stop” clause, allowing for the suspension of targets for agricultural ecosystems in exceptional circumstances. While the law’s survival represents progress in addressing

Europe’s environmental challenges, ongoing tensions between political factions underscore the complexity of balancing conservation goals with economic interests. As Europe grapples with the urgent need to restore its natural habitats, the law serves as a crucial step towards achieving biodiversity and climate objectives, emphasizing the importance of science-based policymaking and collaboration across political divides. In the geopolitical scenario it’s worth to note that Hungary’s parliament on 26 February approved Sweden’s bid to become Nato’s 32nd member, redrawing the geopolitical map of northern Europe.



P. IVA 12561140968

Via Pattari, 6, 20122 Milano MI

Proud Member of

© 2022 Created by ABCPRODUCTION.digital



P. IVA 12561140968

Via Pattari, 6, 20122 Milano MI

Proud member of

© 2022 Created by ABCPRODUCTION.digital