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EU Set to Water Down Climate Rules to Placate Angry Farmers

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union is set to take a further step back on its climate ambitions as it seeks to placate farmers’ anger over strict regulations.

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The EU’s executive arm is expected to make proposals as early as Friday aimed at further reducing the administrative burden on farmers, ensuring fair global competition and strengthening their position in the food supply chain, according to people familiar with the matter. The plan will be a key topic at next week’s meeting of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels.

The European Commission will propose several changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, a program that offers farmers subsidies in return for fulfilling environment-related targets. The aim is to allow more flexibility while keeping the focus on sustainability, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss closed-door conversations.

The proposals are expected to include exemptions on the rules known as good agricultural and environmental conditions, or GAECs — the basic standards in the CAP, which became a target of farmers’ protests across Europe, along with rising costs and cheap food imports from outside the EU.

Officials are discussing relaxing requirements on land management to limit soil erosion, as well as rules about soil cover and crop rotation. Exemptions would also ease the requirement for farmers to leave 4% of their land fallow to improve biodiversity, one of the key points pushed by farmers’ unions, according to EU diplomats.

The move on fallow land follows earlier changes from the commission exempting farmers from the rule until the end of the year and also recognizing them as meeting requirements if they choose to grow nitrogen-fixing crops like lentils and peas on 7% of their land. Small farms of under 10 hectares, which account for 65% of beneficiaries, will be exempt from compliance control penalties, while continuous feedback will be sought from farmers to further reduce the administrative burden.

While some relaxation of the climate rules may be welcomed by farmers, it further dents the EU’s green agenda, which has already seen rollbacks.

The commission had to withdraw its push to halve the use of pesticides after the proposal was voted down late last year in the European Parliament. The bloc also settled for a watered-down deal on a nature restoration law, another key element of its efforts to address climate change.

“Getting rid of already way too weak environmental requirements to receive subsidies is about election fever,” said Kristine De Schamphelaere, a policy officer for agriculture at the Pesticide Action Network Europe. “The shift to sustainable, climate robust practices is unavoidable and urgent. Delaying will only increase the burden for farming and society.”

--With assistance from Ewa Krukowska.

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