Green German MP: The times are changing, and so must the CAP

"If the "Farm to Fork" strategy is not integrated into the CAP, we will have lost seven crucial years with disastrous environmental consequences," Bundestag MP Harald Ebner (Greens) told EURACTIV France in an interview. [Chaperon]

The European Parliament will vote on the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) at the end of the week. In an interview with EURACTIV France, Bundestag MP Harald Ebner (Greens) spoke about how crucial it was to integrate the European Commission’s ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy into the new CAP, which according to him, should be greener and fairer.

Bundestag MP Harald Ebner is currently president of the Greens in the Bundestag’s food and agriculture committee.

On Monday and Tuesday (19-20 October), European agriculture ministers are meeting to negotiate major texts that will define the CAP for the next seven years. Later in the week, it will be the Parliament’s turn to deal with these issues. What should the new CAP look like?

The answer is quite simple: most importantly, it should not look like the old one. It can no longer continue like that. The challenges are enormous. The coronavirus crisis has certainly caused a major economic upheaval, but it is not the only crisis we are experiencing.

The climate emergency, the destruction of biodiversity, soil erosion and water pollution are just as serious. All of these issues, which were of little or no concern a few years ago, have become essential. The times are changing, and so must the CAP.

Does this mean that agricultural policy, as it is practised today, is not green enough?

Far from it. Our agriculture produces value, which is not recognised by the current agricultural policy. In our consumer society, it is perhaps satisfying to buy food cheaply but low prices do not guarantee a satisfactory income for farmers, nor do they guarantee quality agricultural production.

Moreover, the subsidies allocated to farmers are very unevenly distributed. While large farms receive the majority of funds, small farmers, who ensure production diversity, are sidelined by market-driven logic and price pressure. From now on, it is essential to encourage farmers to turn to more sustainable modes of production. The CAP must become greener but also fairer.

Agrifood Brief: The final CAPdown – five things you need to know

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The pitched battle for the fate of the next EU farming subsidies programme …

In May 2020, the European Commission presented its “Farm to Fork” (F2F) strategy, with ambitious objectives to promote organic farming, reduce the use of pesticides and synthetic inputs. Does this strategy have a future within the future CAP?

It has a future, and it must have one. With its F2F strategy, the Commission has made ambitious commitments: a 50% reduction in the use of pesticides by 2030, a reduction of at least 20% in the use of fertilisers, and the promotion of a more ecological and sustainable agriculture… All these measures are heading in the right direction. It remains to be seen whether the EU will match its ambition with an action plan and sufficient financial support.

We are in a key period, with the meeting of the Council and the vote on CAP reform in the European Parliament. If the “Farm to Fork” strategy is not integrated into the CAP, we will have lost seven crucial years with disastrous environmental consequences.

And many reports confirm this: it can’t go on like this, the agricultural policy must change. Even the [German] Scientific Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Food [Wissenschaftliche Beirat für Agrarpolitik, Ernährung und gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz] has recently taken a stand on this.

In response to the question “What should agriculture do to protect the climate and adapt to the climate change debate” – as these two issues are intrinsically linked – the committee made it clear that EU agricultural policy must stop providing aid without environmental compensation. And this is what the Greens have long been calling for: public money for public services rendered.

Last week, Germann Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner proposed to reduce the minimum share of funds allocated to “eco-schemes”, a scheme designed to pay farmers for the services they provide to the environment. In the first pillar of the CAP, only 20% of the budget would be allocated to them…

This announcement left me speechless. It simply proves that Mrs Klöckner doesn’t want to change anything. Behind these fine words, the aim here is to maintain the old system.

In order to encourage farmers to switch to more sustainable agriculture, it must also be profitable. Without substantial financial resources, farmers will not be able to make the transition to sustainable agriculture. If the share of eco-schemes is reduced to only 20%, the measure will no longer have any effect. Even 30% will not be enough to fundamentally change the system.

Rewarding farmers for ecological services could help protect biodiversity

As the World Summit on Biodiversity opens on Wednesday (30 September), new measures to halt its decline are being discussed, including the concept of payments for environmental services, which is currently widely debated in France and Europe. EURACTIV France reports.

The question of subsidiarity is also a source of much debate.

Indeed. The European Commission wants to give more responsibility to the member states at the risk of seeing a levelling down. If member states are left with the responsibility of managing these “eco-schemes” alone, which head of state or which minister of agriculture will go home saying: “We have negotiated something, and to implement it we will be stricter than all our other European neighbours put together.”

Nobody can do that. That’s what’s in front of us: the countries will be watching each other, to do as little as possible back home. Today, we no longer need fancy words, but strict and clear measures.

In addition to your mandate in the Bundestag, you are a member of the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly (DFPV). In which areas do you expect concrete cooperation within the DFPV? Specifically in the field of agriculture?

To have parliamentarians from two different countries united in this way is unique throughout the world. This bi-national parliamentary assembly is very young [created in 2019 by the bilateral treaty on Franco-German cooperation]. We have only met three times: in Paris, Berlin and Strasbourg. The last meeting in Frankfurt was cancelled due to the coronavirus.

But I am hopeful that cooperation will increase in the coming years. Especially in agriculture, our two countries can learn from each other. France, for example, introduced flagship measures several years ago to reduce the use of pesticides. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but to fight global warming, combining forces is obviously a good strategy.

Handling soil with care: Conservation Agriculture's role in post-2020 CAP

Despite being taken into consideration only slightly in the EU’s current farming subsidies programme, Conservation Agriculture is set to play a central role in the green architecture of the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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