Farmers and ranchers are rising up against EU policies, dissatisfied with their aid and their market, despite the fact that they represent a safety net, with threats and opportunities, with a highly questioned distribution.
Brussels, the capital of the community institutions, is the main reason, although not the only one, for the mobilizations of the Spanish countryside, infected from other countries, because they feel pressured by regulations, without their income compensating for the effort.
Farmers and ranchers demand changes in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or a stop to trade agreements that open borders to competition, despite subsidies and market advantages, which are insufficient.
The analyzes show that there is no single agriculture and that the benefits of the EU are being used unevenly.
Nor is it new to blame Brussels for the ills of the countryside, which – parties and governments included – has been done in different ways since Spain entered the EU (1986).
These are some notable threats and advantages of the EU, not always satisfactory, for farmers.
The CAP, which was born 62 years ago, has almost 400,000 million euros for 2021-2027, of which 47,000 are for farmers in Spain, the third most benefited country.
“It is a strong budgetary commitment, a stable framework that has adaptation to climate change as one of its goals,” agricultural engineer and expert in CAP and agricultural markets Tomás García-Azcárate told media.
Apart from payments, the CAP offers rural development policy, for activities other than and complementary to agriculture, with plans co-financed by governments and autonomous communities.
The latest reform, since 2023, has raised environmental demands, given more responsibility to governments and introduced measures such as eco-regimes, which have caused the criticized bureaucratic hell.
García-Azcárate admits that support for producer organizations and their associations has been insufficient and that there is a lack of “selectivity” in the definition of priority actors for aid.
Its pending or improvable subjects are the measures to face market crises and, in the opinion of farmers, to support them against imports.
Imports and trade agreements
The majority organizations -Asaja, COAG and UPA- highlighted the “unfair competition” and the fight against a market that imports “at a low price”, when they called for the protests, in a more restrained tone than has been heard these days.
The farmers demand that the ratification of the agreements with Mercosur and New Zealand, and multiple other trade negotiations, be paralyzed, in addition to requesting that import controls from Morocco be increased.
But Spain is a leader in the export of olive oil, wine, fruits and vegetables or canned tuna, and also enjoys a single market thanks to the EU; In less controversial moments, the sector itself has admitted these interests, although it has always emphasized that there must be “reciprocity” in the demands.
“There is incoherence between trade policy and the European Green Deal,” emphasizes García Azcárate, who, however, points out that greater demands on farmers can be an opportunity, since quality is a “strength.”
The markets absorb 50% of national agricultural production, he adds, but not all farmers and ranchers or all sectors benefit equally.
As for Ukraine, unlike other countries, Spain is a net importer of its cereals, also used for feed; For Spanish grain producers, drought and high costs are tougher factors.
The Green Deal
The European Commission’s star project to achieve a neutral economy in CO2 emissions targeted the agricultural sector with strategies such as the one that proposed reducing pesticides – which has been withdrawn -, animal antibiotics or the implementation of a mandatory ecological surface.
Their debate, in the midst of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, has raised the following question: Why are farmers being suffocated so much, putting the generational change at risk, if the food supply is in danger due to change? climate?.
Political parties have entered the discussion, which has become polarized, as has happened with proposals such as the Nature Restoration Law, which will be debated this month in the European Parliament, before which farmers and fishermen feel “criminalized.” .
Is all agriculture in crisis?
Numerous experts and even environmental NGOs agree that we cannot speak of a single agriculture or livestock industry; There is only unanimity on one thing at the moment: all kinds of producers are protesting now in Spain.
“Spanish agriculture is doing well, but especially large farms that can enjoy increasingly important economies of scale in increasingly robotic and scientific 4.0 production; The same does not happen to family businesses,” according to García Azcárate.
Regarding future solutions, he points out that questions arise such as the redistribution of public aid, because there will not be more resources.
Should the CAP benefit the most competitive? If water use is helped, is it provided to the large groups or to a minimum of hectares for everyone?, he concludes.
BY: Nadeem Faisal Baiga