At the start of the pandemic, we interviewed Save the Bees campaigner Helmut Burtscher (watch the interview here), where he shared with us the challenges of running a European campaign during a pandemic. This time, our colleague Carsten Berg, founder of The ECI Campaign and campaigning for Save the Bees, shares with us some more information about the ECI as well as how the last year and half of campaigning under a pandemic has been going.
Sign the ECI Save the Bees here before 30 September by clicking here!
Or visit https://www.savebeesandfarmers.eu/eng for more information.
1.Carsten, what is the ECI "Save Bees and Farmers" about? And how does an ECI work?
Carsten Berg: We are striving for the preservation of biodiversity and an ecologically oriented agricultural turnaround in the European Union. We don't want to continue witnessing how bees disappear from our meadows, nor how the birds fall silent, all of this whilst millions of farmers must give up on their small-scale businesses as the market share of agro-industrial companies grows at an alarming steady pace.
Now, simply put, ECIs are an official democratic instrument provided by the European Union which give us EU citizens the opportunity to address our demands directly to the EU legislators so that they can be considered and potentially executed. To make this happen, one must establish an initiative and collect one million signatures from EU citizens from at least seven different EU Member States supporting it. We are trying to collect one million signatures across Europe through the ‘’Save Bees and Farmers’’ ECI, which was originally launched by the Aurelia Foundation. Fortunately, more and more people are recognizing the urgency of tackling this scourge, as well as becoming active players in local and nationwide citizens-based movements to protect biodiversity. So, this is a truly bottom-up petition. By the people, for the people (and the bees, naturally).
Actually, the very first successful ECI, "Water is a Human Right," with nearly two million supporters, succeeded in stopping further water privatization in Europe. However, this was also possible inasmuch as numerous protest movements were organized at the national level simultaneously. Therefore, strong European movements can emerge within this context and influence political decisions, especially concerning the agricultural sector.
2. What are your specific demands?
Carsten Berg: We are calling for a gradual reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides in EU’s agricultural model, and a complete ban on their use by 2035.
In doing so, agriculture must be transformed into a driving force for the restoration of biodiversity. It is crucial that farmers receive financial and technical support for this mandatory transition to a more bee-friendly and organic agricultural system. Only in this way can they (farmers) regain the social recognition for their work as deserved.
3. How did the problem regarding bees and farmers came to be? Can you briefly explain the background?
Carsten Berg: This phenomenon affecting both bees and farmers is the result of the current model of industrial agriculture implemented in the EU. Such a model is characterized by hostile monocultures, as well as by the large-scale use of synthetic pesticides and genetic engineering. Over 300 billion EUR, or nearly 40 percent of the European Union's total budget, flows into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the current financial framework. However, it is mainly big farming businesses that benefit from this huge amount of money through the area payments scheme. This means that it is not the quality of the agricultural work what is used as a basis to calculate the allocation of that financial support, but only the size of the cultivated areas. Accordingly, industrialized farms receive most of the support. But rural and organic farms, which per se ensure the diversity and protection of species through their crop rotations, are massively disadvantaged. This explains, among other things, why the number of farmers has fallen by 25% across Europe in recent years. As a matter of fact, according to Eurostat, from 2003 to 2013 more than 4.2 million farms, predominantly small-scale ones, ceased operations.
Bees and farmers therefore need an ambitious and realistic systemic change, which is only possible via a reorientation of the EU’s agricultural support policy and a consistent phase-out of the use of synthetic pesticides.
4. Why is now the right momentum for the ECI?
Carsten Berg: The course for or against bee-friendly agriculture will be decided at the European level in the upcoming months. After that, the EU financial framework for the years 2021-2028, which is worth billions, will be established, as well as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Now is the time to push the exit from the publicly subsidized agricultural model and to migrate to an eco-friendly one.
Likewise, we have also now met the minimum quorum in seven Member States. These countries include the Netherlands, Belgium, Latvia, Germany, France, Romania, Hungary. and Austria. In addition, we reached another very important milestone last week when we exceeded the 700,000 supporters. This is extremely important because now everyone is convinced that we can still make it to the one million signatures if people really participate.
5. What are the challenges you have encountered, including challenges campaigning during a pandemic?
Carsten Berg: There are mainly two challenges.
The first and biggest one has to do with the Corona-related measures, which did not allow us to collect signatures on the streets and markets anymore. This means that we had to put a major focus on online campaigning, knowing that many of the 140 supporters behind us specialize in collecting handwritten signatures through their regional and local apparatuses. The second challenge is the impossibility to extend the deadline for collecting the signatures.
6. How can potential supporters join the petition, and what are your final words for them?
Carsten Berg: Supporting our ECI is simple. Anyone wanting to support ‘’Save Bees and Farmers’’ needs to visit the following website https://www.savebeesandfarmers.eu/eng.
Once there, it is just a matter of filling the form with the information required. It is important to clarify that the ECI page for signing will also ask people for their address and date of birth. We can understand this is data some may prefer not to provide, however that is what the EU’s regulation requires. Hence, if you are supporting us, you must enter all that information so that your signature counts.
Finally, don’t forget we just have until September 30 to start building a future in which our bees and farmers are safeguarded. If by then we don’t get the remaining 290,000 signatures we need, all the efforts that have been put into this initiative may fade away, and therefore our bees and farmers will be at risk. Spread the word!