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10th Jun 2023

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.

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  • 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.

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