Ursula von der Leyen announced on Tuesday the withdrawal of a contentious law that aimed to reduce the use of pesticides across the European Union, marking the first defeat of the Green Deal.
The so-called Sustainable Use Regulation (SUR) was first tabled in June 2022 with the ambitious goal of slashing the use of pesticides in half by 2030. It also envisioned the total prohibition of these products in sensitive areas, such as urban green spaces and Natura 2000 sites, and promoted the uptake of low-risk alternatives.
SUR proved divisive from its inception and became the object of fierce lobbying from the agricultural sector. Last year, it was rejected by the European Parliament with 299 votes in favour, 207 against and 121 abstentions, and is currently stuck in political negotiations among member states, signalling a very low appetite to push it over the finish line.
“The Commission proposed SUR, with the worthy aim to reduce the risks of chemical plant protection products,” von der Leyen said on Tuesday, speaking before the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“But the SUR proposal has become a symbol of polarisation. It has been rejected by the European Parliament. There is no progress anymore in the Council either. That is why I will propose to the College to withdraw this proposal.”
Von der Leyen’s decision comes amid a growing right-wing backlash against the European Green Deal and widespread protests of furious farmers, who, among other grievances, say the burden put on them by environmental regulation is excessive.
“Only if our farmers can live off the land will they invest in the future. And only if we achieve our climate and environmental goals together, will farmers be able to continue to make a living,” the Commission president said.
“Our farmers are well aware of this. We should place more trust in them.”
The withdrawal of the law is not immediate and still has to be ratified by the College of Commissioners. Despite the news, von der Leyen stressed the issue of regulating pesticides would remain on the agenda and might be subject to a “new proposal much more mature.” Due to the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, the fresh draft will be the task of the next Commission.
“Of course, the topic stays and to move forward, more dialogue and a different approach is needed”, von der Leyen told MEPs.