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Damien O'Reilly
EU Affairs and Communication Manager, ICOS

Letter from Brussels - September 2023

The European quarter in Brussels went into sleep mode in August. The institutions virtually shut up shop for the month followed by the mass exodus of ex-pats working in politics and policy here.

They needed the break because now it is back to business and between now and next May’s European elections, there will be a big rush to get a lot of things done. From a farming perspective, there is a long menu of policies still up for debate, discussion, and voting. 

The controversial Nature Restoration Law is now in trialogue with a final agreement expected before Christmas. Both sides of this bitter debate claimed a victory of sorts in the July parliament plenary vote, but it can best be described as a much-watered-down version of the original Commission proposal.

The next few weeks will also see discussion and voting in relation to wide-ranging animal-welfare legislation which will include live exports. Limits on journey time, journey conditions, and age and weight of un-weaned calves will all be under scrutiny with Ireland watching on closely, considering its dependence on live exports. 

Sustainable Use Regulation restricting the use of pesticides is a core part of the EU Farm to Fork policy. It is proving controversial with arguments against the limits at a time when food security is under threat due to war and weather. MEPs will have committee votes and a full plenary vote in November with the proposal aiming to cut pesticide use by 50 per cent by 2030. Not unconnected is the approval of glyphosate use. Based on recommendations from the European Food Safety Authority, the Commission is now in talks with Member States with a view to renewing the approval of glyphosate, which is due to run out in December. 

While not a big issue across Europe, many Irish dairy farmers are focused on the Nitrates Derogation review. Over the next few weeks, Ireland faces an uphill battle to convince the EU Commission not to revise the stocking rate from 250kg of nitrogen (N) per hectare (ha) to 220kg N/h. This would affect around 7,000 farmers and a decision on that is expected in early October. 

There are two important trade agreements on the table, which are proving problematic from an Irish farming perspective. A deal with the Mercorsur countries is on a knife edge. Germany, who wants to sell cars to the South Americans tariff free, along with the Spanish presidency, are pushing for a deal but other countries like France, Austria, Netherlands, and Ireland are worried about tariff-free beef imports. COPA COGECA, the European farm lobby, also has big concerns. A Free Trade Agreement with Australia is also on ice, again over agricultural product volumes coming into the EU. We want their raw materials such as lithium and cobalt and in return they want to sell us beef, sheepmeat and sugar. Negotiations are continuing. 

There is a myriad of other policy and legislation proposals intertwined with the broader aims of the EU Green Deal. Reducing food waste, improving soil quality, mitigating against greenwashing and improved food labelling are all set for decisions or kicks for touch as the life of this parliament and EU Commission come to an end. It’s going to be busy.