29th Nov 2021

Von der Leyen warns CAP reform does not hit Green Deal

  • The possibility that the European Commission could withdraw the reform proposal of the bloc’s farming policy has raised alarms among EU lawmakers and member states (Photo: Jake Gard)

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday (17 November) voiced concerns about the bloc's ongoing reform of farming policy, saying that "some aspect of the positions taken by co-legislators [European Council and Parliament] do not match the ambition proposed by the commission nor of the Green Deal".

"The necessary transition to greater sustainability and climate neutrality asks a lot from all citizens and business. It also asks a lot of farmers," von der Leyen said in a response letter to the members from the European People's Party of the parliament's agriculture committee.

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"We all wish the new CAP [Common Agriculture Policy] to be fit for purpose and to put the agricultural sector on track of greater sustainability, resilience and prosperity. Above all, we want the CAP to ensure that agriculture stops being an important driver of biodiversity loss," she added.

After EU agriculture ministers and MEPs reached a negotiating position earlier this year, the trialogue endgame commenced last week - with the aim to find a compromise before March 2021.

While member states and lawmakers have backed the general new architecture of the CAP proposed in 2018, the commission is concerned that some aspects of their negotiating positions can undermine the environmental potential of this flagship policy.

The CAP, which accounts for over €350bn of the next seven-year budget, is based on two big strands of payments: direct payments to farmers, and other support for rural development.

Row over eco percentages

Both EU Council and EU Parliament want a great deal of flexibility to implement so-called mandatory eco-schemes - a percent of direct payments established only for green projects in the agriculture sector, such as precision farming, agroforestry, and organic farming.

Member states want to put aside 20 percent of direct payments for such mandatory eco-schemes, while MEPs want at least 30 percent.

However, the commission is concerned that allowing unspent resources for environment and climate to be re-allocated will undermine effective green expenditure under these schemes, resulting in a lower impact on environmental protection.

Additionally, the EU executive wants to convince lawmakers and member states to raise the level of ambition regarding the environmental "conditionality" that each farmer must apply to get direct finance.

For instance, the commission wants farmers to adequately protect wetlands and peatlands - one of the major storage reservoirs of carbon in EU soils.

This conditionality instrument aims to set out stricter environmental standards than the current systems of cross-compliance and 'greening' - which were recently criticised by the European Court of Auditor for having little positive impact on biodiversity.

But "Council and parliament lower[ed] basic requirements, putting at risk the capacity of the CAP to tackle climate change and protect the environment as well as the CAP contribution to the [EU's commitment to have at least a] 30 percent climate expenditure target," said the commission in a working document.

Moreover, the EU executive also finds problematic that MEPs and member states want to include part of the income support for so-called "Areas with Natural Constraints" under the 30 percent ring-fencing for the rural development budget - since the financial support for these specific areas goes beyond the climate.

"These three elements, conditionality, eco-schemes and ring-facing, are important for the future CAP to deliver on the environmental objectives and to significantly improve its environmental performance," a senior commission official warned.

Withdrawal not on table

Meanwhile, the possibility that the commission could withdraw the 2018 reform proposal of the bloc's farming policy has raised alarms among EU lawmakers and member states, ahead of the second round of trialogue negotiations.

But von der Leyen reiterated on Tuesday that the EU executive is not considering withdrawing of the CAP reform, aiming to put a stop to such speculation.

That came after commission vice-president in charge of the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, left the door open for this possibility, arguing that member states and MEPs are "sticking to an agricultural policy that is not sustainable".

As a result, MEPs from the same political family as von der Leyen expressed their concerns about "[the] contradictory positions are being taken by the commission."

"The role of the commission in the trilogue negotiations must be to facilitate an agreement between the parliament and council, not to push its own political priorities," MEPs said.

"We ask that the normal decision-making procedures be respected, that the commission acts as a collegiate body, and that individual views of members of the college, no matter how passionately felt, do not undermine effective inter-institutional co-operation," they added.

According to German agriculture minister Julia Klöckner, whose country holds the EU Council presidency, "it is urgently necessary to take seriously democratic compromises that have been reached for good reasons".

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