23rd May 2019

Farm ministers keen to link EU aid to protection of public goods

  • Farmers to get paid for 'eco-system-services'? (Photo: European Commission)

Poland and France have refused to accept a lower budget for EU farmers but agreed to link farm aid to the protection of public goods and services such as the environment, energy and water in the future.

Speaking at a conference in Copenhagen on Monday (26 April), French farm minister Bruno Le Maire said "France will not accept that agriculture should play a lesser role as concerns the budget." He was supported by Marek Sawicki, his Polish counterpart, who said the future budget should be "at least on the same level as we have today."

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But both ministers agreed to the concept of linking future farm aid to the protection of public goods as a way of ensuring continued support for public funding of the sector.

The European Union's current common agriculture policy (CAP) is set to expire at the end of 2013, with the difficult task of negotiating a new deal covering the years 2014 - 2020 falling to Denmark and Cyprus, holders of the EU presidency in 2012.

CAP payments amount to approximately €55 billion a year, more than 40 percent of the EU's entire annual budget or around €100 a year for each EU citizen, according to the agricultural watchdog organisation Farm Subsidy.

Danish farm minister Henrik Høegh, hosting the Copenhagen conference, argued agriculture must be treated like any other sector in the modern economy, and that direct support for farmers should be linked to the protection of public goods such as environmental protection, energy, water management and animal welfare in the future.

The chief concern around the table was that European citizens are unlikely to accept continued aid to farmers without changes, and the public goods concept saw a rare show of unity amongst the participants: five agriculture ministers, the responsible EU commissioner and key members of the European parliament.

"The CAP needs new political legitimacy," said the French minister, ruling out a return to the old system with quotas on milk and other farm products.

"I saw thousands of milk farmers not able to meet their deadlines. And the more modern their production, the worse their situation."

"Direct payments must become legitimate again. We must find a formula for this," said Mr Le Maire, adding that direct aid must remunerate those who help the environment.

He said the future farm policy must be sustainable in order to gain acceptance by the European consumers in the future.

Dacian Ciolos, EU agriculture commissioner, said major reform is needed and public support must be secured.

A few weeks ago (12 April), he launched a public consultation on the future CAP. It has already received 300 contributions, he revealed.

"Why do we need to support farmers and what do we want from them in return? Once we have those answers, we can start building a strategy," he said, and gave an example of how important the common farm policy is to secure food supplies:

"Some supermarkets were worried about their stocks of certain fruits and vegetables after just a few days of flight disruption", as clouds of volcano ash swept across Europe.

Gerda Verburg, Dutch farm minister, also spoke in favour of linking payments to the delivery of public goods in the future, or "eco-system-services" as she called it.

"Agriculture must be part of the solution to other global challenges," she argued.

International trade agreements limit the possibilities for the EU to support farmers directly, but linking the support to certain targets may be a way forward and is already used in practice as the 'Agenda 2000' reforms divided the CAP into two 'Pillars': production support and rural development.

In Copenhagen, hopes were voiced of linking the second pillar to the new Europe 2020 Strategy, a ten-year economic growth plan, and tapping into the resources made available for the greening of production and support for innovation.

As a first step, EU leaders agreed in March that "all common policies, including the common agricultural policy and cohesion policy, will need to support the (2020) strategy."

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