The war in Ukraine ‘cannot be a justification to delay the Green Deal’, stresses EU

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Manuel-F-O
Image: Getty/Manuel-F-O

Related tags Ukraine-Russia conflict Wheat Green Deal Farm to fork

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has insisted the Green Deal, which contains the landmark Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, will remain a key priority despite the conflict in Ukraine.

The war has triggered the third global food crisis in 15 years, with supplies of wheat, cereals, and edible oils particularly impacted.

It’s estimated around 20 million tonnes of wheat has been trapped in Ukraine since its neighbour’s invasion.

The two countries provide up to a third of the world’s grain exports. Ukraine’s grain exports have fallen from around five million to between 200,000 to one million tonnes per month since the start of the crisis.

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen has accused Russia of deliberately hoarding and blocking food supplies to drive up prices and “blackmail”​ countries to end their sanctions.

The situation has caused concerns among some that the Commission will, under the influence of certain lobby groups, water down its sustainability strategy to focus on ramping up productivity in the short term.   

For example, The European Commission is reportedly amenable to a German proposal to delay new EU rules on crop rotation in order to increase wheat production. Diverse crop rotations can help strengthen the resilience of agricultural soil. But postponing the rules would be a “pragmatic solution”​ to allow farmers to “strengthen global supply without worsening other crises like the climate catastrophe and biodiversity loss​,” said German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir. 

In a press briefing on 30 May, Wojciechowski called the conflict in Ukraine a "seismic event"​ from which the tremors will be felt for "many years to come"​.

But he told journalists that efforts to fill gaps in global supply chains can go hand in hand with the Commission's green goals to introduce new legislation on the circular economy, building renovation, biodiversity, farming and innovation.

“Let me be very clear,”​ he said. “The war in Ukraine cannot be a justification to delay the Green Deal.

“Right now, we are focused on relieving the suffering,”​ he stated. “On helping Ukraine face the aggressor. On deeds, not words. These things are essential but let me be very clear: none of them are incompatible with ambitious action on our environment.”

The food security challenge created by the conflict is "global not local"​, he claimed, meaning Europe is not facing food shortages.

Logistics, not production, will therefore help address the problem. The EU is accordingly building "solidarity lanes"​ to facilitate food exports from Ukraine.

“Increasing production within the EU would not be the magic solution to help our international partners,”​ Wojciechowski noted. “What we need is to show solidarity towards the most vulnerable countries and to increase local sustainable food production, so as to reduce structural dependencies.

“And as regards Ukraine, we need to help its economy to thrive again, not to build obstacles by creating new competition.   

“The terrible war in Ukraine is not a reason to delay the Green Deal, but to intensify our work to implement it.”

'Food security can only come through sustainability'

The Commission has previously stated that “food security can only come through sustainability​”. It says it plans adopt a proposal on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides before the summer and will present new initiatives on seeds, food labelling, animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance later this year.

Czech Agriculture Minister Zdeněk Nekula, who will chair the Agriculture and Fisheries Council from July, told journalists: “We cannot focus all the time on increasing the production, but we have to add other aspects, the environment and other areas.

“Basically speaking, we cannot resign from the Green Deal. The Green Deal is not dead… If we want to eat healthy food, if we want to drink pure water, we have to change our approach and the way we perceive our nature, our landscape”.

The issue of if the Commission’s environmental commitments will be watered down by the ramifications of the conflict in Ukraine is unlikely to recede any time soon, however.

The Commission has announced a €300 billion plan to eliminate Russian energy imports by 2027 and make "massive investment in renewables"​, although it admitted this would require short-term investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure to replace the imports of Russian oil and gas.

Related topics Regulation & safety Sustainability