OpEd

Lessons from the tractors of Paris

We must put an end to this idea that within the dialogue Kosovo will not lose anything, but will only win. As European farmers are learning the hard way, there are no easy and ideal solutions in life

A new, and unexpected, symbol of resistance has recently appeared: tractors. Some time ago, images of Ukrainian tractors pulling Russian tanks became symbols of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. The Ukrainian postal service "Ukrposhta" honored the unexpected symbol of Ukrainian resistance with a special postage stamp.

In recent days tractors are again in the center of attention in Europe. From Belgrade and Athens to Madrid and Lisbon, European capitals have been challenged by farmers' protests. The most massive protests were organized in Berlin and Paris. Images of animal manure being dumped in front of government offices flooded Instagram and TikTok, while footage of endless tractor convoys down Berlin's iconic boulevards and France's highways made international headlines.

In France in particular, farmers' protests have a serious impact. The French people maintain a mystical love for agriculture and farmers. Therefore, historically French politicians have been very sensitive to their demands. This is also the reason why the European Union still maintains an extremely uncompetitive subsidy policy for the agricultural sector. France has been the main blocker of any reform of the generous agricultural subsidies at the EU level codified within the Common Agricultural Policy.

But recently farmers have increased pressure on European governments to provide greater support for the agricultural sector. The protests also reflect the economic pain that European farmers have experienced in 2023. Last year alone, the value of European grain production fell by 30% - from €80.6 billion in 2022 to €58.8 billion in 2023. Consequently, the protests have had a number of demands related to oil subsidies, imports from Ukraine, exemption from tax obligations, protection from imports and competition coming from Latin America, reduction of requirements and standards required by the EU Green Agenda, etc.

In particular, French farmers have raised their voices against the Mercosur Agreement. Mercosur is the largest trade agreement in the world between the European Union and four Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreement, which is in the final stage of negotiations, will create a market of almost 800 million citizens. Its importance is also reflected in the fact that nearly 1 million jobs within the EU depend on exports to Brazil alone. The negotiations started in 1999 and are today on the verge of completion. The agreement aims to lower trade barriers between the two parties, offering European industry new growth opportunities, particularly in the pharmaceutical, textile and machinery manufacturing sectors. On the other hand, the possibility of their main export of agricultural products to the EU will be facilitated for the four Mercosur countries. This is also the reason why French farmers are unhappy. Opening the EU agricultural market to Mercosur countries will expose non-competing European farmers to an unbearable economic pressure.

President Macron has reacted quickly by demanding the blocking of the Mercosur Agreement. Last week he publicly underlined: "We need the clarifications about Mercosur, we asked that the agreement not be signed in its current form". This message was repeated this week by the new Prime Minister of France, Gabriel Attal, in his meeting with Chancellor Scholz, who is an ardent supporter of Mercosur. The subject of Mercosur was the rare point of division between France and Germany. Prime Minister Attal summarized the discussion with Chancellor Scholz with the words: "We agree to disagree."

But beyond Mercosur's fate, farmers' protests are already causing trouble for European decision-makers. Under the pressure of pan-European protests, and a few months before the European elections, the European Commission has surrendered. The President of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen has withdrawn this week the draft law on the reduction of pesticides, this act which basically hits the goals of the European Green Agenda. The bill would have established more advanced agricultural standards to protect the environment and health with the goal of slowing global warming. On the other hand, the law would also produce new administrative and financial burdens for farmers since the implementation of the new standards would require the change of traditional agricultural methods and significant financial investments. Likewise, the European Commission removed any reference to the agricultural sector in the proposal-plan for the reduction of greenhouse gases for 2040. The previous draft requested that agriculture contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by reducing emissions by 30% up to 2040. At the same time, the European Commission has recently removed the requirement that farmers do not use 4% of the land in order to promote biodiversity as a condition to benefit from subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy funds. All these are the direct consequences of the recent protests of European farmers.

And while it may seem on the surface that farmers' protests in Europe have nothing to do with us here in the region, they offer an important lesson. As European countries understand today, there are no easy and ideal decisions in life. You cannot advance the European Green Agenda and protect farmers. Both to protect the environment and to protect agriculture.

European agriculture has long suffered from the disease of chronic uncompetitiveness. Its artificial protection from global competitiveness will only prolong the disease, not cure it. It is in the interest of the European Union that the European economy is restructured in line with its competitive capabilities. The Mercosur Agreement also offers this opportunity. And while the EU's non-competitive agriculture may suffer from Mercosur, that of the European machinery and pharmaceutical industries will benefit. In life there are no deals that only have good ones. In the words of the former secretary general of the WTO, Mr. Pascal Lamy, it is said: "If you think that you can benefit from the Mercosur markets without paying anything in the field of agriculture, you are dreaming."

This important lesson is for us too. We can't dream. From dialogue to spending our budget, we are faced with decisions that are not ideal. Every decision will incur a cost somewhere. The increase in the budget for the KSF will reduce the subsidy for farmers. The increase in the energy subsidy will reduce the budget for new schools. Consequently we must be at peace that we will not achieve much for a long time. But at least we will reach some.

And the teaching of immutability is most applicable to the ubiquitous theme of dialogue. We must put an end to this idea that within the dialogue Kosovo will not lose anything, but will only win. As European farmers are learning the hard way, there are no easy and ideal solutions in life.