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‘Agriculture as sovereignty’ under the French EU presidency

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With less than one month to go until France’s presidency of the Council of the European Union kicks off, Paris is being roundly criticised by some of its European counterparts for seeking to push back deadlines for free trade agreements with Chile and New Zealand.

While some EU countries seem in a hurry to conclude these agreements, in their haste they may not have fully measured the impact which poorly crafted agreements could have on European agriculture.

As France has made clear, European farmers are asked to comply with higher safety and environmental standards than their foreign competitors, with the result being that products which fail to live up to EU rules are nonetheless widely available across European markets.

Let’s be clear: weakening these standards should be out of the question.

Indeed, they need to be further strengthened in many areas (particularly when it comes to pesticides and agriculture’s contribution to decarbonisation).

On the other hand, a coherent policy approach demands that non-European agricultural suppliers adhere to the same food safety, quality, and environmental protection criteria as European producers, with European governments having the option of instituting “mirror clauses” in trade agreements to compel them to do so.

In the absence of these provisos, Europe won’t only be subjecting its farmers to unfair competition; it will also make it even more difficult for European agriculture to meet the EU’s own standards.

What’s more, farmers are not the only ones suffering from the imbalance between standards inside and outside the European bloc. Under the status quo, EU consumers are being sold products linked to destructive and unsustainable agricultural practices banned in Europe.

Two years ago, for example, a French Senate report found that between 10 and 25 percent of agricultural products imported by France do not comply with European standards. As environmental experts from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany pointed out last year in Nature, the EU – by allowing these products into the single market – is effectively “outsourcing environmental damage to other countries, while taking the credit for green policies at home.”

One of the most flagrant examples of this trend is the catastrophic deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon, largely driven by the intensive livestock farming encouraged by the Bolsonaro government.

Despite Brazil’s pledges to combat illegal deforestation, the rate at which Amazonian rainforests are being cleared is actually increasing, with 877km2lost this past October alone.

Before Bolsonaro took office, Brazil averaged 6,500km2 of forest cleared annually; since the populist firebrand took office, that average has increased to 10,500.

Indeed, many of the countries with which the EU is signing free trade agreements – including Mercosur nations such as Brazil as well as the United States, Australia, and New Zealand – use “pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified (GM) organisms that are strictly limited or forbidden in the EU.”

When it comes to livestock farming, these regulatory differences could have a direct impact on the health impact of products on European tables. As a Veblen Institute report recently explained, meat imports from countries like Brazil, the US, and Canada regularly violate EU rules against the use of growth hormones, animal feed, and inhumane animal treatment and transport.

Early momentum at EU level

While this issue impacts the whole of Europe, France has been the most outspoken voice pushing for change. Emmanuel Macron declared last May that “we defend above all the mirror clauses, which will allow us to see our own requirements respected by those with whom we trade.”

Regarding the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur, whose ratification France is blocking, Macron added that: “we have, in South America, countries that deforest, that do not place the same limitations as us on phytosanitary products, that do not have the same work requirements as us.”

French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie has also argued that the EU should “export its standards and stop having foreign standards imposed on its own single market.”

Despite the tensions over ongoing FTA negotiations, those arguments are starting to catch on in Brussels and other European capitals.

In October, the French, Spanish and Austrian ministers of agriculture wrote a joint editorial calling on the EU to change its approach and become a standard-setter for international trade.

In November, the European Commission responded with a draft regulation to ban imports of products such as beef, palm oil, and coffee if they are linked to deforestation, claiming that the proposal would put into place “mandatory due diligence rules for operators” requiring them to “collect the geographic coordinates of the land where the commodities they place on the market were produced.”

Unfortunately, as the French agricultural sector subsequently pointed out, companies importing beef from countries such as Brazil will not have any way of ensuring their products actually comply with those rules, given that Brazil does not trace livestock from birth until slaughter – as mandated in Europe and carried out by tools such as the Trade Control and Export System (TRACES).

Moral and strategic imperative

By influencing and shaping agricultural standards in other markets, the EU can achieve several of its own strategic objectives, including advancing the fight against climate change and helping to avert future pandemics.

While protecting its own consumers and farmers, European governments can also raise standards of food quality and environmental quality overseas, demonstrating global solidarity alongside strategic autonomy.

One of the challenges for the French presidency of the EU is thus to convince the rest of its European counterparts that Paris’s demand for harmonised standards covering agricultural imports is inseparable from the EU’s flagship Green Deal as well as the core concept of European sovereignty.

Thanks to Europe’s collective weight in the global marketplace and the economic importance of Europe-bound exports around the world, the EU has both the opportunity and the responsibility to leverage its position to impose its standards worldwide.

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Protests flare across Poland after death of young mother denied an abortion | Abortion

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Protests are under way across Poland after the death of a 37-year-old woman this week who was refused an abortion, a year since the country introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

On the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday night, protesters laid wreaths and lanterns in memory of Agnieszka T, who died earlier that day. She was pregnant with twins when one of the foetus’ heartbeat stopped and doctors refused to carry out an abortion. In a statement, her family accused the government of having “blood on its hands”. Further protests are planned in Częstochowa, the city in southern Poland where the mother-of-three was from.

“We continue to protest so that no one else will die,” Marta Lempart, organiser of the protests, told Polish media. “The Polish abortion ban kills. Another person has died because the necessary medical procedure was not carried out on time.” All-Poland Women’s Strike has called on people across the country to picket the offices of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and organise road blockades in the coming days.

Agnieszka was first admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa with abdominal pain on 21 December. She is said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she arrived and was in “a good physical and mental shape”, according to her family, who said her condition then deteriorated.

On 21 December the heartbeat of one of the twins stopped and, according to Agnieszka’s family, the doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation. They waited several days until the second foetus also died. A further two days passed before the pregnancy was terminated on 31 December, according to the family.

A priest was then summoned by hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, the family said.

The family say that the doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy earlier, citing Poland’s abortion legislation. “Her husband begged the doctors to save his wife, even at the cost of the pregnancy,” Agnieszka’s twin sister, Wioletta Paciepnik, said on Tuesday.

After the termination, Agnieszka was moved from the gynaecological ward and her health continued to deteriorate. Her family suspect that she died of sepsis but the cause of death was not identified in a statement released by the hospital.

Shortly after her death, a statement by her family accusing the hospital of neglect was published on Facebook, alongside a distressing video of Agnieszka’s last days.

Agnieszka’s death marks the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that declared abortion due to foetal abnormalities illegal. Abortion can now only be carried out in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life and health are in danger.

Her death comes after that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was refused an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found that “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined. Soon after, an anonymous man from Świdnica in south-west Poland came forward to share that his wife, Ania, died in similar circumstances in June last year.

While “selective abortion” is possible in the case of a twin pregnancy, it is unclear whether aborting an unviable foetus to save its healthy twin is permitted by the new abortion legislation. The Polish court has not referenced the questions raised by this situation, presented by opposition senators last year, in the new legislation.

“We want to honour the memory of my beloved sister and save other women in Poland from a similar fate,” Paciepnik said in a video appeal. The case is now being investigated by the regional prosecutors in Katowice, who also investigated the case of Izabela.

The family are represented by Kamila Ferenc, from the Federation for Women and Family Planning, who confirmed that an autopsy of Agnieszka’s body has been ordered by the court.

According to a statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. The hospital did not respond to the Guardian for a request for comment.

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Italy welcoming back EU tourists from February

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Italy will remove all Covid-linked restrictions on international visitors from the EU from 1 February, except the requirement to carry a “Green Pass” – a certificate of vaccination, negative test result, or immunity through having had the virus. Roberto Speranza, the health minister, also gave Italians the go-ahead to travel once again to Cuba, Singapore, Turkey, Thailand (the island of Phuket), Oman, and French Polynesia, Reuters reports.

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Polish state has ‘blood on its hands’ after death of woman refused an abortion | Abortion

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The family of a Polish woman who died on Tuesday after doctors refused to perform an abortion when the foetus’s heart stopped beating have accused the government of having “blood on their hands”.

The woman, identified only as Agnieszka T, was said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she was admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa on 21 December. Her death comes a year after Poland introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

According to a statement released by relatives, the 37-year-old was experiencing pain when she arrived at the hospital but was “fully conscious and in good physical shape”.

The first foetus died in the womb on 23 December, but doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation, and Agnieszka’s family claim “her state quickly deteriorated”. The hospital waited until the heartbeat of the second twin also stopped a week later, and then waited a further two days before terminating the pregnancy on 31 December.

Agnieszka died on 25 January after weeks of deteriorating health. Her family suspect that she died as a result of septic shock, but the hospital did not identify the cause of her death in statement issued on Wednesday.

“This is proof of the fact that the current government has blood on their hands,” the woman’s family said in a statement on Facebook. The family also uploaded distressing footage of Agnieszka in poor health shortly before she died.

After the termination of the pregnancy a priest was summoned by the hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, Agnieszka’s family said.

Her death follows that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was denied an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined.

Agnieszka’s family claim that contact with the hospital was very poor and that the hospital refused to share the results of Agnieszka’s medical tests citing confidentiality guidelines. They say the doctors “insinuated” that Agnieszka’s rapidly deteriorating state could be caused by BSE, commonly known as “mad cow disease”, or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) and suggested she ate raw meat. The hospital did not reference this claim in their statement.

According to the statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. It is not clear whether an autopsy has been ordered.

Agnieszka is survived by her husband and three children.

The Guardian has contacted the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital for comment.

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