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Analysis-Europe’s restless farmers are forcing policymakers to act By Reuters

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By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European policymakers have scaled back rules to protect nature, drawn up limits on the import of tariff-free Ukrainian grains and scrapped new legislation limiting pesticide use as farmers’ protests resonate with voters ahead of elections.

    From Poland to Portugal, farmers have won remarkable concessions in response to waves of street action, reshaping the European Union’s green politics months ahead of European Parliament elections.

Environmental activists and analysts say the policy backsliding illustrates the considerable political influence of farmers as mainstream parties seek to impede the far right and nationalist parties’ hunt for votes in rural areas.

Farmers again blockaded streets surrounding the European Union headquarters in Brussels last week, spraying manure to protest low incomes, cheap food imports and burdensome red tape. As they did so, the bloc’s farming ministers backed a new set of changes to weaken green rules linked to the disbursement of tens of billions of euros in farming subsidies.

When the last European elections were held in 2019, the Greens made strong gains and climate activist Greta Thunberg was voted Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

“The elections in 2024 will be elections in the year of angry farmers,” said Franc Bogovic, a Slovenian lawmaker in the European Parliament and himself a farmer.

The scramble to placate farmers has impacted key pillars of EU policy, pressuring the bloc over its Green Deal and free trade accords.

EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius warned of a “disastrous” blow to the bloc’s credibility last week, when EU countries declined to approve a landmark law to safeguard nature, leaving it unclear if the policy will be passed.

Other green measures are hanging in the balance ahead of the election. EU countries asked Brussels last week to scale back and possibly delay a new anti-deforestation policy, which they said could harm local farmers.

In France, senators in March voted against ratification of an EU-Canada free trade deal, targeting a symbol of the EU’s willingness to open up markets and boost competition.

And while the EU has extended tariff-free access for Ukrainian food producers, it agreed last month to impose duties if imports exceed a certain level, in response to farmers’ protests.

Some farming groups acknowledge the response by policymakers to the protests is likely linked to June’s elections – but say the weakening of green…

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