Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans:
Good afternoon to everyone,
This is our college readout. We adopted two proposals to protect the health of Europeans and of our nature, this morning. One is the Nature Restoration Law, and the other one a proposal to halve the use of chemical pesticides in the EU by 2030. We will present them to you shortly.
Furthermore, the College adopted its Trade and Sustainable Development Review. Valdis Dombrovskis will present this to you after this Press Conference. And finally we welcome Niels Thygesen, the chair of the European Fiscal Board who presented the board’s annual assessment of the fiscal stance for the Euro Area in 2023.
Putin’s war against Ukraine has a very, very deep impact on Europe, including on the Green Deal. As you know, our clean energy transition is getting a massive boost. But on biodiversity, Farm to Fork some see the war as a perfect excuse to pull the brakes.
The arguments are well known: ‘There are too many risks to global food security already. This is not the time.’
If this is not the time, when?
Look at our soils – 70% are in bad shape and it already limits food production in certain areas.
Look at pollinators – one in three is in decline even though 80% of our crops depend on them.
Look at the hailstorms in Croatia, the really crippling extreme droughts that you see in Italy now, leading to horrible water shortages by the way, or the loss of land after Spain’s ever more frequent gota fría. Which used to happen once every 50 or 100 years and now seems almost an annual event.
Using the war in Ukraine to water down proposals and scare Europeans into believing sustainability means less food, is frankly quite irresponsible.
Because the climate and biodiversity crises are staring us in the face. And every European citizen is seeing this on a daily basis now, wherever you live.
Let’s also be quite straightforward:
Science is very clear: this is what threatens food security. This is what threatens our long-term food security.
We start tackling this today, but it will take some time before these proposals are law and applied in the Member States. And they won’t address all problems in our food systems:
- Our overdependence on synthetic fertilizers and imported feed.
- The need to change our diets and stop wasting 20% of our food.
- The fact that two-thirds of cereals in the EU are used to feed animals.
- Or the need to improve farmers’ incomes. Some are really desperate of the lack they get.
So we’ve agreed today to prepare a comprehensive analysis of all the drivers of food security. We will compile everything that can be done now to accelerate our transition to sustainable food systems.
Because we’ll need to. We need nature to survive and to survive, nature needs us to step up.
Citizens know this very well.
In the Conference of the Future of Europe they’ve repeatedly asked for nature restoration and pesticide reduction. In the consultation on nature restoration, 96% supported binding targets. And in the citizens initiative ‘Save Bees and Farmers’, 1,2 million Europeans called to reduce pesticide use.
Businesses know we need to act as well. From food, consumer goods to renewables, tourism and even extractive industries: they’ve all called for ambitious legislation.
So today, for the first time ever, we are proposing a law that would require all Member States to restore nature. We need to repair the 80% of our nature that’s in bad shape, and bring nature back to our cities, towns, forests, agricultural land, seas, lakes, and rivers – the nature that our citizens want and need.
This isn’t only about our physical health, but also about our mental health. This is something that will give us more confidence in ourselves and our ability to shape our natural environment in a sustainable way.
Now, restoration does not mean more protected areas. It goes hand-in-hand with economic activity, and even strengthens it. Just think about the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that our crops need to grow.
On pesticides, we are also taking a massive step forward. By 2030, half of chemical pesticides should be replaced with alternatives, with practices like crop rotation, and with technologies like precision farming. We also propose to prohibit all pesticide use in sensitive areas like schools, hospitals, parks, and playgrounds.
The longer we wait, the more expensive and difficult this will all be. For everyone involved, and especially those who depend most directly on nature: farmers, foresters, and fishers.
The urgency is big, but we also know that nature restoration and replacing chemical pesticides takes time. That’s why our measures are for 2030, and for nature restoration even 2040 and 2050.
Now over to Stella and Virginijus who will take you through the proposals in more detail.
Today, we are delivering on one of the most long-awaited and important objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy: new rules to reduce the use and risk of pesticides.
This is a proposal delivering on our citizens’ expectations. Citizens have been very clear, in the Conference on the Future of Europe, in European Citizens Initiatives and in Eurobarometer surveys, where close to 40% consider pesticides a major issue with regards to food safety.
If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it is that we cannot separate human health from the health of our environment. The outbreak of Monkeypox is yet another stark example of how closely interlinked we are with our nature.
The on-going Russian brutal and barbaric invasion of Ukraine creates deep concerns about global food security.
These concerns are valid. But they don’t make action on pesticides any less urgent.
That is why today we announce that we will launch a comprehensive analysis on the drivers of food security in all their dimensions.
Our proposal on pesticides is part of the answer, and part of the long-term pathway to sustainability.
The overuse of pesticides are major risks to the health of our citizens, causing both acute and long-term health impacts.
Pesticides kill the pollinators that are responsible for most of the food we eat, and reduce biodiversity.
If we want to fulfil our commitment to long-term food security, protect our environment, natural resources and the health of our citizens and the economy, the EU needs to change course on pesticides.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Time is up for pesticides.
Firstly, we are banning the use of chemical pesticides in sensitive areas, not only in the protected sites such as Natura 2000 sites, but in all urban green spaces.
Our parks and public paths, our playgrounds and our sports facilities, the places where we meet and where our children play, will be pesticide free. This is about directly protecting our citizens’ health.
Secondly, we propose for the first time binding reduction targets, clear objectives and enforceable rules that will reduce by 50% the use of pesticides in the EU by 2030.
I want to underline that the new rules will take into account the historic progress and national pesticide use of each Member State when it comes to setting national targets. We are not proposing a one size fits all approach.
I also want to make clear that we are not banning pesticides. We seek to replace them with safe and sustainable alternatives. This is making pesticides a last resort measure.
It is clear that this transition will require an effort from all of us: the EU, Member States, and actors from across the food chain, in particular our farmers. This is why our ambition will be matched by an equally ambitious the level of financial support that will leave no one behind.
To do so, we have today, for the first time, taken an exceptional step and changed the rules of the Common Agricultural Policy to support farmers financially to cover the costs of all these rules and requirements for a period of 5 years.
We will also accompany the transition by increasing the range of biological and low risk alternatives on the market and through continued research, innovation and new technologies.
Since the start of our mandate, we have approved 20 low-risk alternatives. This work will now continue and accelerate.
All of these measures are part of the strong toolbox of support for our farmers that is accompanying the new rules and that can and will compensate for any additional costs and prevent price increases in food.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The truth is that without these changes, we risk pollinator and ecosystem collapse which will have even greater impacts on food security and food prices.
This is why today we are also launching discussions with our Member States and third countries so that imports to the EU do not contain traces of neonicotinoids – the bee killer substances already banned in Europe.
This is an urgent transition, one that we have to deliver on now.
Thank you, Frans. Good day, everyone.
Indeed, this is an important day for Europe’s biodiversity, for our climate ambition and climate mitigation. For our food security and for our citizens who have been very clear and loud by asking the EU to act for nature.
The new law on Nature Restoration really does break new ground – it’s the first EU-wide, comprehensive restoration law of its kind.
For the past thirty years, our main focus has been on protection, and safeguarding natural areas. That was and will always be crucial. But it is no longer enough to reverse the loss of biodiversity in Europe.
Too much of our nature has already been destroyed or degraded over the years: 81% of EU-protected habitats are in poor condition, with 36% deteriorating and only 9% improving.
That is simply unacceptable.
This proposal addresses the missing link in our acquis – ecosystems that have been damaged and are holding Europe back. By restoring them, we’re bringing up the level of our nature across the Union.
In practice, this law requires that by 2030 effective restoration measures are in place on 20% of the Union’s land and sea areas.
It also requires that, by 2050, restoration measures address all ecosystems in need of restoration.
It blends those overarching objectives with targets for specific ecosystems, pollinators, birds, urban ecosystems and so forth.
I won’t go into every single detail, but I will just mention few examples.
We seek to stop net loss of green urban spaces by 2030, and increase it by 5% until 2050.
We also suggest minimum of 10% tree canopy cover in every European city, town, and suburb, and net gain of green space that is integrated to buildings and infrastructure.
We aim to remove river barriers so that at least 25000 kilometers of rivers in Europe would be turned into free-flowing rivers by 2030.
And that is only a small part of targets.
But what we’re presenting today isn’t just about nature – it’s much more than that.
When you prevent soil erosion, you’re acting on food security not only in the long, but also in the short term. When you restore wetlands, you’re avoiding floods in the cities downstream.
And of course it’s extremely important for the climate. Nothing removes carbon more efficiently than our forests, wetlands and seas. We have a lot of knowledge now about the climate benefits of nature-based solutions.
With this new law, we can start putting all this into practice.
Lastly, on the price tag. We finally must stop living in a myth that nature protection and restoration is a cost without return.
This proposal will save Europe vast sums of money.
For restoration, for every €1 we invest, we get a return of at least €8, from the benefits healthy ecosystems provide.
And yet I do not know of any efficient technology that can replace the vast extent of benefits that natural ecosystems provide.
So the most expensive thing we can do is to fail to act and to loose them.
Moreover, those investments can come from all directions – public and private funds, or corporate engagement. And there are many co-funding opportunities in the EU budget.
We do have a Climate Law for climate crisis and it was a call for countries around the world to follow our climate ambition.
This is a law for nature. And I am proud that we are proposing it right on time also to our global partners, as yesterday it was confirmed that long-awaited COP15 will finally take place in December in Montreal.
The new Nature Restoration Law will show the entire world that the EU is serious about nature. It will be our ace and will help us to promote an ambitious international framework for biodiversity.