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18th Feb 2019

Commission eyes end of 'one-size-fits-all' farm policy

  • EU commissioner Jyrki Katainen (l) and Phil Hogan present their ideas about the future of the common agriculture policy (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission wants to give national governments more flexibility in how they implement the EU's long-controversial common agriculture policy.

"We have concluded that a one-size-fits-all approach to implementation is not always appropriate for a union of 500 million citizens," said EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan at a press conference on Wednesday (29 November).

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  • Cows on a farm in Burgundy, France. The goals of the EU farming policy would remain the same for all states, but the implementation in France could differ from other countries (Photo: Stijn te Strake)

"There has been a lot of criticism in relation to complexity of policy and the manner in which it has been implemented," he added.

Hogan spoke at the publication of a 'communication', a commission strategy paper, about the future reform of the common agriculture policy (CAP).

"We are taking the bold step to give member states more subsidiarity," said Hogan.

He was flanked by commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen, in charge of jobs and growth.

In simple terms, the Finn summarised the proposed change as follows: "'What to do' is decided here [in Brussels], 'how to do' is decided more and more at national level. The policies stay here, but the implementation is more in the hands of the member states."

"We don't want to renationalise the CAP," Katainen added.

Hogan said that the one-size-fits-all approach was particularly unfit for the CAP's environmental goals.

"We will allow member states to define the practices that are most appropriate to their regional context. Measures which fit better to local conditions will deliver better for environment and climate," said Hogan.

The paper itself noted that although greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector have reduced by 24 percent since 1990, the sector needed to "step up" its contribution to limit climate change.

It said that "in the absence of stronger and more ambitious policy support it is unlikely that EU agricultural emissions will continue to decrease at the same pace".

National plans

To ensure that the national implementation of EU policies deliver the desired goals, member states will be required to send the commission 'strategic plans', which the EU executive would then have to "assess and approve".

Hogan noted that the commission has "a lot of experience in the to-ing and fro-ing" with member states on rural development programmes, and said that governments will have "about eighteen months" to discuss the plans with the commission.

According to the paper, member states will have to define "quantified targets" to make sure that the EU-level environmental and climate goals are reached.

The new policy should also give national governments flexibility on how they attract young farmers to take over agriculture businesses for the next generation.

Wednesday's paper itself is non-binding and not accompanied by legislative proposals. These will follow next year.

Disappointed environmentalists

However, the paper was still highly anticipated among interest groups - and in some cases met with disappointment.

Environmental lobby group WWF Europe expressed in a press release disappointment in the lack of clear targets in the paper.

The group said "the future legislative proposal will have to define legally-binding targets to ensure accountability at national level and avoid the misuse of 'flexibility' that we have seen in the past."

Their colleagues from Greenpeace also criticised the lack of concrete plans, and that it failed to mention that changing diets can have an effect on reducing agriculture's impact the climate.

"The industrial production and overconsumption of meat, milk and eggs in Europe is having a devastating impact on our health, nature and the climate," said Greenpeace.

"The commission's failure to even mention the problem shows the EU is asleep at the wheel while our food and farming system heads straight for disaster," it said.

Budget

The communication said nothing about how the CAP will be funded after 2020 because this is something that needs to be discussed through a separate procedure.

Discussions on the next multi-annnual EU budget, which will start next year, will focus on new priorities like security and migration policies, while the amount of money available is likely to shrink due to the UK exit from the EU.

"I am under strict instructions by the budget commissioner not to mention anything about money in the context of my communication, not to anticipate the multi-annual financial framework," said Hogan.

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