Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

EU farming deal attacked by Green groups

  • Lawyers from NGO Client Earth previously warned the European Commission of their legal obligation to align the CAP proposal with the Green Deal (Photo: Chanel Mason)

EU agriculture ministers reached a common position on the bloc's farming policy post-2020 in the early hours of Wednesday (21 October) - paving the way for final negotiations with the European Parliament and Commission.

The Common Agriculture Policy (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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Intensive agriculture techniques, including pesticides and irrigation, contribute to large-scale loss and destruction of nature (Photo: Wikipedia)

How much money from the direct payments should flow into eco-schemes - a conditionality system introduced to increase green projects in the agriculture sector - was the main sticking point in this week's negotiations.

After hours of negotiations, finally ending at around 04:30AM, EU ministers agreed on the proposal from the German EU presidency to put aside 20 percent of direct payments for such mandatory eco-schemes.

Farmers, therefore, will not be able to access that cash for purposes other than environment and climate protection. But small farmers would be subject to simplified controls, aimed at reducing the administrative burden.

Examples of eco-schemes include practices like precision farming, agroforestry, and organic farming. But member states would also be able to design their own instruments in their national CAP strategic plans - which then have to be approved by the European Commission.

Given that such eco-schemes will not kick in during the CAP transitional period (2021 and 2022) and that EU ministers agreed on a two-year pilot phase, they will not become binding until 2025.

"Member states demonstrated their ambition for higher environmental standards in farming and at the same time supported the needed flexibility in ensuring farmers' competitiveness," said German agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner, who chaired the meeting.

However, some member states voiced concern at the challenges that the novelty of eco-schemes present.

For instance, Irish minister for agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, said on Monday that "there is a threat of significant losses if there are unspent funds," adding that the two-years pilot phase was not long enough, since there was a risk of unspent funds remaining after that.

And the overall reform of the CAP gives more flexibility for member states in terms of climate protection than green groups wanted.

Thunberg accuses MEPs of 'surrender'

Simultaneously, the European Parliament is also voting on the CAP proposal throughout this week - with the full parliament position expected to go to a vote on Friday (23 October).

On Tuesday evening, MEPs agreed that 30 percent of direct payments should be for mandatory eco-schemes.

However, the largest groups in the European Parliament - the European People's Party (EPP), Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe - previously reached a controversial consensus, lowering other environmental conditions attached to the CAP.

For example, the majority of MEPs voted against an emissions-reduction target for agriculture of 30 percent by 2027, while they also rejected protecting grasslands and peatlands - one of the major storage reservoirs of carbon in EU soils.

Moreover, an amendment to revert the policy reform to the EU Commission, proposed by the Greens, was heavily defeated.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said that "the EU parliament signed away €387bn to a new agricultural policy that basically means surrender on climate & environment".

"No awareness means no pressure and accountability, so the outcome is no surprise. They just don't care," she tweeted.

Once the parliament agrees on a position, lawmakers will be able to enter into the negotiation phase with the commission and the council.

Legal gap?

The initial proposal of the CAP reform was made in 2018, and has been intensely criticised since for falling short on addressing how intensive agriculture techniques, including pesticides and irrigation, contribute to large-scale loss and destruction of nature.

The reform of the EU's flagship farming system was recently slammed for not being aligned with the Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies of the Green Deal.

Under these strategies, the commission proposed a series of targets by 2030. For example, increasing organic farming to more than 25 percent, or halving the overall use of and risk from pesticides.

However, these targets are not fully integrated into the CAP, resulting in what some legal experts describe as an "illegal incoherence" between the different policy instruments.

Ahead of the negotiations, lawyers from NGO Client Earth warned the commission of their legal obligation to align the CAP proposal with the Green Deal.

"[But] instead of amending the CAP to reflect green commitments and ensure consistency between policies, as they were legally obliged to, the commission has passed the buck to its co-legislators to ensure environmental targets are achieved," Lara Fornabaio from ClientEarth told EUobserver.

"The prospect of a CAP [being] capable of delivering the Green Deal's vision looks bleak," she added.

EU Commission methane plan lacks binding agriculture targets

The new European Commission strategy on slashing methane emissions focuses first on obtaining better data. Critics say it is a missed opportunity to impose targets and other binding measures on agriculture, the largest single emitter.

Opinion

Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure

MEPs will vote this week on a supposedly historical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for over one-third of the EU's annual budget. But as it stands, it is set to become a historical failure of catastrophic proportions.

Green groups demand CAP now aligns with EU Green Deal

Green NGOs urge the EU Commission to align its reform of the Common Agriculture Policy with the ambitions set in the EU Green Deal. The commission wants member states to reach an agreement.

CAP 'failed to halt biodiversity loss', auditors find

The European Court of Auditors has urged the European Commission to establish measurable commitments to tackle biodiversity loss caused by intensive farming - as the Common Agriculture Policy has so far failed to reverse this long-standing issue.

'Marked divergences' remain in CAP reform showdown

The 'super trialogue' on the knotty issue of Common Agriculture Policy reform later this week aims to give a rough approximation of the different institutions positions. However, there are still big differences between national capitals and the European Parliament.

With war raging, a push to roll back green farming

Campaigners say pesticides lobbyists are trying to rollback green farming rules but Europe "can't just drop everything we've already tried to develop for sustainable development of farming in the future," says EU agriculture commissioner.

Column

Is this strange summer a moment of change?

It is a strange, strange summer. The war in Ukraine continues, 60 percent of Europe is in danger of drought, and Covid is still around and could rebound in the autumn. At the same time, everyone is desperate for normalcy.

Opinion

A year of Taliban — only aid is keeping Afghan kids alive

It's a year since the Western military presence in Afghanistan ended. A year since panic-stricken people flocked to Kabul airport, trying to flee the country, and girls and women waited fearfully for the disintegration of their hard-won rights.

News in Brief

  1. Tens of thousands of Jews quit Russia since start of war
  2. Russia says GDP forecasts better than expected
  3. Spain 'hopeful' for new gas pipeline
  4. German troops return to Bosnia over instability fears
  5. Next UK PM candidates reject Scottish independence push
  6. Russia will not allow British spy plane overflight
  7. Discrimination in Germany remains high, new figures show
  8. US weighs plan to revive Iran nuclear deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  4. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us