Von der Leyen was accompanied by Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who initiated the encounter, and Dutch Premier Mark Rutte immediately after the closure of the European Council on Thursday (1 February).
Speaking to reporters, De Croo pointed out that agriculture today faces a "lasagna" of issues ranging from the burden of the Green Deal implementation and over-regulation.
“Farmers want to be a partner of the climate transition, I have not seen any farmer that does not love nature - they live from nature,” he said, adding that their financial situation is, however, extremely difficult.
At the meeting, farmers' representatives stressed the importance of putting agriculture at the centre of the EU’s agri-food policies, Euronews according to a close source.
Although they welcomed initiatives such as the strategic dialogue recently launched by von der Leyen in principle, according to the source, they said such actions should offer concrete answers to farmers.
“I'm very sensitive to the message that farmers are concerned by administrative burdens,” von der Leyen told a press conference after the summit. She later told farmers that the EU executive will present a simplification package designed to address this during the next gathering of EU agricultural ministers on 26 February.
Ode to farmers
“Farmers play an essential role in Europe's economy and society, and their work contributes greatly to our food security and indeed also to our way of life,” said von der Leyen after the EU Council.
She praised their resilience citing agricultural productivity improving by 13% last year, and the contribution to the bloc’s external trade as agri-food exports increased by 5% over the same period.
“But many challenges remain. For example, the tension on prices that leads to uncertainty and of course, the need to remain competitive while working to high standards and environmental protection,” she said.
“Farmers can count on European support,” she said, recalling that the EU allocates almost one-third of the European budget to agriculture.
She added that the EU must defend the legitimate interests of European farmers in trade negotiations, in particular in ensuring a level playing field in terms of import standards.
Only ‘technical’ cuts
EU leaders also agreed today to reassign money from other financial envelopes of the bloc’s long-term budget to fund the €50bn plan for Ukraine approved at the summit.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU’s farming subsidies programme, will be touched by this redeployment together with the cohesion funds to the tune of €1.1bn.
However, the cut in the CAP budget decided by EU leaders is considered mostly technical and “it will not translate into cuts to payment of farmers”, an EU source told Euronews.
The money will come from technical assistance for promotion funds over the next three years.