With Timmermans out, we can do deals on farm reforms, says EPP chief

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European People’s Party (EPP) leader Manfred Weber said Tuesday that it would become easier to reach agreement on sustainable farming reforms now that Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans is no longer in office.

Weber and Timmermans jousted repeatedly in the European Parliament as his center-right group fought a rearguard action against new EU rules to restore degraded natural areas and, with an eye to the farm vote in next year’s elections, hit out at key elements of the European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy.

Timmermans resigned last month to lead an alliance of the left-wing Socialist Party and the Greens in the Dutch general election. Now, with low-key pragmatist Maroš Šefčovič taking charge of the green agenda, things have suddenly gotten easier.

“I want to be very clear, with the departure of Frans Timmermans there is an atmosphere where people see now that there is a chance that all aspects [of the Green Deal] can be content based, in a fair discussion, and be recognized as good arguments,” Weber said at press conference Tuesday.

“We need to win people to support the change in front of us, not make them afraid,” he added. “We’re the farmers’ party and we’re proud of that.”

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is also an EPP member, called for “more dialogue and less polarization” on farming issues in her State of the European Union address last week.

When asked whether it will be easier to reach compromises now that Timmermans has left the Commission, Weber told POLITICO “yeah … we’ll see” as he was exiting the press room. 

“It is not about only one or two people,” the EPP leader added, stressing that “the style of Frans Timmermans was a quite provocative style [and] I want to see a respectful dialogue — and I think we can achieve that.”

Dead or alive?

The EPP — the largest political group in the Parliament — unsuccessfully tried to kill the nature restoration law in plenary in July. The three EU institutions have now entered into negotiations to find a compromise on the file, with the next round of talks scheduled on October 5.

Weber rejected the notion that the EPP was trying to weaken the Green Deal, as lawmakers work to finalize a number of files before the end of the mandate next year. “We know this is needed, the fight against climate change is our historic mission of our generation today, there is no doubt about this,” he said.

The EPP, nevertheless, didn’t rule out voting down the regulation on halving pesticides use and risks in the EU.

Frans Timmermans resigned last month to lead an alliance of the left-wing Socialist Party and the Greens in the Dutch general election | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

“We are working in the agriculture committee and in the environment committee in order to have a compromise, which we think is suitable,” said Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann. “If we are able to achieve this, we will support the proposal. If not, we need to have the same approach” as with the nature restoration law.

The agriculture committee is expected to vote on the pesticide law on October 9, followed by the environment committee two weeks later. The first of the two votes was postponed from July, following pushback from the EPP and other right-wing groups.

Dorfmann said, however, that the EPP fully supports another Green Deal file, on gene-edited crops, which the Commission presented in July. That file has been broadly welcomed by EU agriculture ministers and industry, but green lawmakers and civil society warn it could exacerbate the corporate capture of the farming sector.

“We will for sure not strike it down,” Dorfmann said.