2nd Mar 2021


Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure

  • The three biggest political groups (EPP, S&D and Renew) came up with a horrible compromise this week, a deal that is a further assault on nature and will prolong the unfair allocation of the majority of CAP funds to the biggest farmers and oligarchs (Photo: Dieter Telemans)

The European Parliament will vote on either Thursday (22 October) or Friday this week on a supposedly historical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which accounts for over one-third of the EU annual budget. But as it stands, it is set to become a historical failure of catastrophic proportions.

In a new report by Corporate Europe Observatory last week, we reveal how big farm and agribusiness lobby group Copa-Cogeca, together with pesticides and food industry giants, are trying to rush through the CAP reform proposal - which was inherited from the Juncker Commission.

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  • Copa-Cogeca and the food and pesticide industry dominate the composition of most of the DG's advisory groups. Copa-Cogeca occupies 28 seats in one group alone (Photo: Pixabay)

At the same time they are also pushing to delay and hollow out the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies of Ursula von der Leyen's Commission's Green Deal.

Their plan: to keep the many problematic aspects of CAP, which would completely undermine the EU's latest green ambitions.

Unfortunately, just one day later a leak showed our fears were correct.

A backroom deal between the three biggest political groups in the parliament - the conservative European People's Party (EPP), the social-democrats (S&D) and the liberals (Renew) - seems to give a kiss of death to the relatively-ambitious Farm to Fork strategy.

The new developments indicate these politicians might just succeed in locking us all into seven more years of subsidised environmental destruction.

Until the last moment, Copa-Cogeca lobbied to further weaken any green element in the CAP.

The German EU Presidency, for its part, headed by agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner, did the same in the most recent council meetings.

Copa-Cogeca, as our report pointed out, has privileged access to policy makers prior to council meetings, as a 'matter of tradition'.

Privileged access

During the September Agri-Council in Koblenz, it was given the opportunity to address all EU agriculture ministers together.

No other interested party in food and agriculture policy was ever given that same level of access to ministerial meetings.

At the European Commission's DG Agriculture, which drafts and administers the CAP, Copa-Cogeca is an old friend. The two have co-managed the CAP for decades.

Unfortunately these habits persist till today.

For example, Copa-Cogeca and the food and pesticide industry dominate the composition of most of the DG's advisory groups. Copa-Cogeca occupies 28 seats in one group, for example.

This is rather convenient for the lobby group, given that travel expenses to Brussels are covered by the Commission, meaning it can use this funding to organise its own meetings too.

The European Commission could still withdraw the problematic CAP proposal inherited from the previous commission, but so far it has chosen not to.

The European Parliament had its chance to do some damage control.

But instead, the three biggest political groups (EPP, S&D and Renew) came up with a horrible compromise this week, a deal that is a further assault on nature and will prolong the unfair allocation of the majority of CAP funds to the biggest farmers and oligarchs.

They even agreed to cap the amount member states can dedicate to environmental measures, among other problematic aspects of the old proposal, like allowing payments on drained peatlands or lifting the ban on ploughing permanent grasslands in Natura 2000 areas.

The agribusiness industry is faithfully defended by MEPs that hold key positions on the CAP file: Norbert Lins (EPP), the head of the Agriculture Committee, Herbert Dorfmann (EPP), co-rapporteur of the file and Paolo De Castro (S&D), the other co-rapporteur, among others.

The deal agreed between the three biggest political groups in the parliament shows that these groups remain dreadfully stuck in the past.

Their proposal blatantly ignores the relevant science, which shows that farming currently is currently a leading driver of biodiversity destruction and the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, second only to fossil fuels use.

Birdlife pointed out that Europe has lost 57 percent of farmland birds in 40 years, and called this CAP deal an "extinction machine".

Unfortunately this is not hyperbole.

The issue is also not only about nature: farmers as a social group are being destroyed too.

A decade-long trend has seen almost 10 million persons in the EU leaving the regular agriculture labour force between 2005 and 2016 (-31.7 percent).

The majority of farmers today must be supported to survive in the context of low and volatile commodity prices, which in turn were created by the EU's trade policy and market 'liberalisation'. It is not an exaggeration to say that CAP subsidies today are a colossal indirect subsidy to EU agribusiness corporations competitiveness.

But should the CAP support the destruction of nature, ruin the climate and fill the coffers of the authoritarian leaders of Hungary and Czech Republic? Of course not. Public support for EU farm subsidies will dwindle further if the CAP is not made fairer and greener.

The CAP could still be transformed to be an instrument that rewards the protection of nature and human labour: attempts have been made for more than 30 years to green the CAP and make it more fair. But if none really succeeded, a very large part of the blame needs to go to the agribusiness industry's lobbying.

Farmers or Agribusiness?

Copa-Cogeca pretends to represent the "united" voice of farmers, but its positions keep causing farm concentration and are very much influenced by its other members, who belong to the agribusiness industry.

Farmers' cooperatives, who are part of Copa-Cogeca, have morphed over time into multi-billion-euro agribusinesses themselves, making fortunes selling fertilisers and pesticides to farmers. No wonder they find common ground with these industries.

Together with member states, they aim to keep a system in place in which 80 percent of public funds will be go to the top 20 percent of recipients, meaning the largest land owners and even oligarchs.

This is not only shocking, it is utterly depressing for everyone who cares about the future of food, biodiversity and rural development in Europe. What hope is there left for the new generation farmers who want to start producing food in a decent, sustainable way and be able to make a living from this work?

This CAP reform is crucial for the fate of the Green Deal, for the EU's future and to avert further collapsing ecosystems and climate chaos.

But out-of-touch, heavily-lobbied politicians are bending to the will of corporate interests once again. More drastic measures are urgently needed to protect decision-making in the public interest.

If the European Commission genuinely wants to succeed with its Green Deal, and deliver a positive ecological transformation that benefits public health, the environment and family farmers, it is more and more clear that, an effective firewall needs to be created between public officials and corporate lobbyists.

Author bio

Nina Holland, Martin Pigeon and Hans van Scharen are researchers with the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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