Parkinson’s law that work expands to fill the available time is as true today as when this emerged in a 1950s essay for the Economist magazine.

An expansion of this concept is how you know when you have finished. With the farm protests in Europe a key question is having achieved some success, when is it time to hold back to see if politicians really will deliver.

It might be because there are elections to the European Parliament, but the farm protests have been surprisingly effective. The case being made is strong and morally right, meaning farmers have won public sympathy for their arguments. There is a growing recognition in Europe that farmers delivered food security through the difficult days of COVID and inflation.

This has created a sense that it is then unfair and wrong that farmers are having to take to the streets to make their case. That is a significant victory in the hearts and minds part of this battle. What is even more valuable is that the European Commission has been stirred into action and is showing a real and long term willingness to change. That is a big achievement and one that raises the question of when protesters need to stop and decide whether they can get at least part of what they have been demanding.

The European Commission has taken the big step of beginning an EU wide consultation online asking farmers to say what they mean when banners at the protests demand simplification. This is not a report that will disappear into the online ether as has happened to other surveys. It is only open for a month and Brussels is committed to crunching the numbers over the summer so that it will be in a position to reveal the results by the autumn.

This is potentially a massive snapshot of what is causing concern and frustration for European farmers. When this document emerges the Commission will have created an agenda for the change being demanded by farmers. If it then fails to respond with a concrete plan for change it will be time for farmers to return to protests. They will then have given Brussels the chance to deliver and have every right to restart their campaign.

For now, progress is being made. The simplification opinion survey is a big step and there have been some minor changes already introduced around this principle. They are however small gestures rather than radical policy changes needed. Brussels is also talking up the challenge of fairness along the food supply chain. It looked at this some years ago and came up with policies, which have been mixed in their effectiveness – a bit akin to the Grocery Code Adjudicator in the UK.

Because of the power of retailers and the effectiveness of their lobby, it is hard to make fairness work. The challenge is always the narrow path between fairness for suppliers and adherence to competition rules designed to protect consumers from market manipulation. The vehicle for change is the directive on Unfair Trade Practices and it seems Brussels is prepared to make changes. The debate is around the income uncertainty farmers face, thanks to the power of retailers set against the lack to power of farmers.

Their lobbying power is impressive, but they remain poorly organised, weak sellers dealing with businesses that have turned ruthless negotiation into an art form.

Where the Commission is not moving sufficiently for farmers over its pursuit of green policies. It has accepted that in its controversial nature restoration legislation the rules may be suspended if disadvantage for farmers can be demonstrated. This is movement, but it is a gesture and not the policy change farmers need to move the balance away from favouring the demands of the green lobby back to proper countryside management and food production.

It is easy of course to say that thanks to Brexit this is no longer an issue for farmers here. However, that does not mean we cannot be jealous of what European farmers have achieved with their protests. They have secured a level of political focus on their industry that is lacking here; they are making progress on simplification and fairness and have won commitments around European standards weighing more heavily in future trade deals.

By contrast, we face the most frustrating and difficult political challenge around achieving change – disinterest and a refusal to see the importance of food security and the real economic potential of agriculture and food.