CAP Tracker – Next steps for the national strategic plans

Welcome to EURACTIV’s CAP tracker, your one-stop shop for all the latest developments on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Be sure to check back here regularly for updates on the next steps for the CAP and how member states are progressing with their National Strategic Plans.

Need a refresher about where we’re at on the CAP? All of EURACTIV’s CAP related stories can be found here, and you’ll find more background information below.

Special Edition Agrifood Podcast: A whistle-stop tour of Europe’s CAP plans. In this special edition of the EURACTIV agrifood podcast, EURACTIV’s agrifood team takes you on a tour of 7 of Europe’s capitals, including France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Slovakia, Poland and Ireland, to hear about their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plans, through which member states explain how they intend to meet the objectives of the new CAP reform. How are these evolving in light of the Ukraine war? Where are they at in the approval process? EURACTIV’s network explains more.

How the Ukraine war is reshaping the CAP: Between rising prices and fuel shortages, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the EU agrifood sector on its head. To cope with this crisis, the European Commission has asked member states to adapt their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) national strategic plans in consideration of the new geopolitical context. In this Special Report, EURACTIV’s network looks at how 10 different member states plan to use these new flexibilities and how this could change the course of the CAP reform.

Agriculture Commissioner: It is ‘prudent’ to prioritise upping EU food production:  Increasing food production in Europe is a priority in light of the Ukraine war, according to the EU’s agri-boss, who detailed how the European Commission encourages member states to do this through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  Learn more. 

First batch of letters sent: On 31 March, the Commission sent the first batch of observation letters on the new CAP strategic plans to the 19 member states that submitted their plans within the 1 January deadline. This includes Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden (see here for a first overview of the 19 CAP plans). The letters focus on strengths and weaknesses in each plan, suggesting areas for improvement. 

Controversy: However, the move sparked backlash from stakeholders once it emerged the Commission will only make the letters public once member states have had an opportunity to read and respond to the letters. The Commissioner explained on Twitter that this is due to the fact that the strategic plan proposal was prepared before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Therefore the [European Commission’s] intention to publish the observation letters slightly later aims at giving the Member States the opportunity to comment on them,” he said.

First impressions lacklustre: As they currently stand, the CAP national strategic plans leave a lot to be desired, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who said the majority fall short of the EU executive’s environmental ambitions. Learn more

Meanwhile, ARC2020 has published a preliminary assessment of the observation letters that are currently available, which you can find here.

 

 

Observation letter: Austria was one of the EU countries that decided to go ahead and publish their observation letter from the European Commission. You can find the letter here.

National plan submitted: The Austrian government has finalised and adopted its national strategic plan and has been submitted to the European Commission for approval. You can find a link to the plan here.

Key points: One key decision set out in the plan is to continue having a separate support measure for organic farming via the CAP’s agri-environment measures. While preparing the plan, agri minister Elisabeth Köstinger had considered scrapping the measure and integrating  organic farming support into more general programmes. However, this was met with fierce backlash from the country’s large organic sector, which might explain why the minister has done a U-turn on the matter.

Show me the money: Austria will also distribute funds more evenly by capping support for big farms at €100,000 and shifting 10% of direct payments to small farms. Around 3% of funds will be used to support young farmers.

Reactions: Georg Strasser, president of the national farmers’ association (Bauernbund) welcomed the plans, saying that CAP funds were “money well spent”. The measures foreseen in the plan would benefit not only farmers, but all Austrians by ensuring affordable food products and flourishing rural areas, he told the Standard. Environmentalists, however, were less impressed. Brigitte Reisenberger from conservation NGO Global 2000, for example, said the plan was not ambitious enough when it comes to pesticide reduction, fading out glyphosate, and insect protection.

No transposition: Despite the finalisation of the strategic plan, Austria has not yet transposed its plans into legislation, as there is no national law for the implementation of the new CAP. According to the government, the parliamentary process to adjust the relevant national legislation is set to be launched during the first half of 2022. This will include a reform of the ÖPUL, Austria’s agri-environmental programme which also regulates the support for environmental measures and rural development via the CAP’s second pillar, as well as other laws.

‘High pressure’: According to the agricultural ministry, the country is also working “at high pressure” to flesh out the contents of the strategic plan in more detail through directives and to set up a digital platform via which CAP payments will be administered. In 2025, moreover, the country plans to start evaluating the effectiveness of the new funding structure. 

Commission recommendations: The Commission considers that the Austrian CAP strategic plan must focus on ensuring the viability of small and medium sized farms and improving the position of farmers in the food supply chain; improving soil health and reducing the impact on the climate from livestock farming and fostering sustainable forest management; strengthening the socio-economic fabric of rural areas in the context of an ageing society and depopulation; and digitalisation in agriculture and rural areas.

You can also find a detailed overview of how Austria is advancing with its plan here. More details on the content of the plan (in German) can be found here.

Better late than never: Belgium became the final country to submit its CAP strategic plan for Wallonia on the 17 March. Its plan for Flanders was submitted on 11 March. 

Two for the price of one: Belgium was the only country to submit two plans; one for the Belgian area of Flanders, and one for Wallonie, adding an extra layer of complexity for the future plans for the Belgian agricultural sector. 

Mixed reviews: A new report analysing the CAP strategic plans, produced by NGOs BirdLife Europe, EEB and the WWF European Policy Office, has offered a mixed conclusion about Belgium’s plans. While the NGOs experts looked favourably on several of the eco-schemes outlined in the Belgium (Flanders)  plan, including plans to maintain organic farming and support annual buffer strips, it notes that much is still unknown for the Wallonian plan. Meanwhile, the campaign groups reserved criticism for a number of Belgian eco-schemes across both plans, including on precision agriculture, which they point out has no benchmarking of fertiliser use or target for reduction, and animal management.

Commission recommendations: The Commission has recommended that Belgium focuses on addressing the decline of income and the modernisation of the sector, including digitalisation, reducing emissions from the livestock sector, adapting agriculture to climate change, which it notes could jeopardise the sector, and promote organic farming more strongly, especially in the Flanders region. Belgium must also work on encouraging more young people, including women, to move into farming and fully implement integrated pest management.

 

Better late than never: After a long delay, Bulgaria finally successfully submitted its CAP national strategy plan to the Commission for approval on 25 February, according to a statement from the Bulgarian agricultural ministry. The statement sets out that the ministry of Agriculture aims to implement several key priorities: stimulating the consumption of Bulgarian quality products at affordable prices, encouraging Bulgarian farmers to be competitive in European markets, and directing funds to the development of rural areas.

It adds that the draft strategic plan, which amounts to more than €8 billion, includes an increase from 15% to 60% in the national co-financing for rural development in order to compensate for the reduced funding from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and to boost agricultural and economic growth.

Information campaign planned: Following the final preparation of the strategic plan at the end of February, a campaign will be organised to inform small producers about the environmental standards of the EU Green Deal.

Commission recommendations: To address Bulgaria’s specific concerns, the Commission recommends focusing on enhancing the competitiveness and market orientation of the sector, and improving the viability of smaller and medium-sized farms. Bulgaria should improve soil organic matter and preserve soil fertility, and work on reducing air pollution. The Commission adds that the country should focus on drought resilience plans and water savings, and supporting conversion to and maintenance of organic farming. There is a strong focus on building business and employment opportunities to reduce poverty, and on improving farm biosecurity and animal welfare. Bulgaria should also aim for 100% fast broadband connection coverage in rural areas, while accelerating the development of digital and knowledge skills in rural areas and agriculture.

Favourable reception, but room for improvement: A new report analysing the CAP strategic plans, produced by NGOs BirdLife Europe, EEB and the WWF European Policy Office, has offered a fairly favourable opinion on Bulgaria’s plan so far, listing 6 out of the 10 eco-schemes outlined by the Bulgarian plan as it currently stands as “good” – i.e., likely to deliver. However, the NGOs maintain there is still some room for improvement, notably on increased crop diversification and conservation and restoration of soil potential/fertility. 

Plan submitted: Croatia submitted its national strategic plan at the end of 2021. The plan offers €3.6 billion for Croatian farmers in the 2023-2027 period, while the transitional regulation for 2021 and 2022 provides €1.75 billion for rural development measures and €131 million has been secured for the implementation of reforms under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.

The Croatian agriculture ministry has recently come under fire at home for having signed an €800 million contract with the external consulting company Ernst&Young to drafting the SWOT analysis for the strategic plan despite the institution employs more than 700 workers.

Commission recommendations: Croatia must support the primary sector in strengthening its position in the value chain by financing investments to diversify product portfolios. In this sense, it might be helpful to develop quality policies with higher added value, such as organic products, and develop and enhance vertical integration between agricultural producers, processors and distributors. The Commission also asked to harness the opportunities of the Croatian bio-economy sector through offering relevant investment support and financial instruments.

NGOs unimpressed with what’s on offer: A new report analysing the CAP strategic plans, produced by NGOs BirdLife Europe, EEB and the WWF European Policy Office, has marked all 6 of the eco-schemes currently outlined in Croatia’s plan as either bad/ concerning or “ok – but in need of improving”. Among the eco-schemes listed as “bad” include one on ‘intensified diversity of agricultural land’ and another on using manure on arable land. 

Cleaner, greener Cyprus: Cyprus’ Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Costas Kadis, presented the country’s strategic plan, which was submitted to the Commission before the end of 2021 deadline, back in a press conference in December. Outlining the breakdown of the €461.9 million budget, the minister stressed that this plan will substantially contribute to the ministry’s vision for a sustainable, “green” and “clean” Cyprus. “Through the application of the principles of sustainable development in agriculture and livestock farming, the protection of the environment and the management of our natural resources, which will lead to the creation of new employment opportunities and the improvement of the quality of life of citizens, the new CAP will contribute decisively to the implementation of the goals and policies of the Government for further development of the agricultural sector”, he said. 

Commission recommendations: Cyprus should focus on supporting smaller, more disconnected farms and invest in organic and quality production (e.g. within EU quality schemes) and the development of niche markets. It should also focus on the sustainable production of renewable energy and maintain the presence and conservation of landscape elements and restore favourable conservation status for protected habitats. There is also a strong focus on water, including the cultivation of less water-intensive drought-resistant crops, and on sustainable forest management. Cyprus should also encourage investments in economic and social infrastructure (schools, healthcare, voluntary activities) in mountain areas and work to ensure better services in rural areas and improve generational renewal in agriculture by supporting schemes to reduce the entry barriers in the sector, mainly regarding access to land.

Behind schedule: Czechia was one of the 9 member states that missed the end of year deadline for submitting their national strategic plan. However, the plan was subsequently submitted on 28 January 2022 and can be found here.

‘Right direction’ for Czech farmers: Minister of agriculture Zdeněk Nekula said in a press release that Czech farmers “need to have clear and reliable information about the new conditions,” which will come into force on 1 January next year. “Throughout January, we discussed changes in the strategic plan, which are based on previous comments from NGOs, environmentalists, the Ministry of the Environment and the European Commission,” he said, stressing that the compromise ent to Brussels “respects the real situation in our agriculture and will change it in the right direction,” aka towards “better care for the soil and landscape, healthier water and healthier food”. 

Main points: The ministry said that the main change compared to the previous version of the plan is the redistributive payment parameter, which will increase from the original 10-23%of the total amount for direct payments. “Support will be provided to all enterprises, regardless of their size, for the first 150 hectares,” a government statement stated. The Czech government also approved a 65% co-financing of the Rural Development Program in the new CAP, something it said is comparable to other EU countries and will enable Czech farmers to “remain competitive at the European level”.

Clearer picture for farmers: From this week, farmers can calculate the amount of newly set subsidies via the ‘Agronavigator’ portal. The so-called Calculator 3, prepared by the ministry of agriculture and the institute of agricultural economics and information, is available free of charge.  It serves agricultural enterprises as a tool for the preliminary calculation of selected operating aids resulting from the revision of the strategic plan for 2023 onwards. The ministry of agriculture will also prepare an instructional video, which will be available via the same portal.

Czech farmers fight over CAP Strategic plan: Small farmers are up in arms over the national strategic plan to implement the EU’s CAP reform in Czechia, calling for more sustainable agricultural funding while larger farmers oppose last-minute changes. The row between the farmers escalated on 9 January when the small farmers association leaked the guidelines distributed among large farmers. In these guidelines allegedly produced by the Agrarian Chamber a demonstration on Tuesday (11 January), farmers found instructions saying, “do not tell journalists that the president of the Chamber asked you to join the demonstration” etc. Read more.

Commission recommendations: For the Commission, the Czech CAP strategic plan needs to focus its interventions on accelerating the conversion of conventional farming to organic through adequate conversion and maintenance schemes, as well as on strengthening the efforts to decrease the quantities and risks of most hazardous used pesticides and promoting the sustainable use of pesticides.

 

CAP plan submitted: Denmark submitted its national plan to the Commission on 22 December, 2021.  You can find a link to the plan here.

Plan outline: The plan sets out three main goals – to promote a smart, competitive, resilient, and robust agricultural sector which guarantees food security in the long term, to support and strengthen environmental protection, including contributing to the implementation of a range of national action plans regarding the climate, nitrate use and forests, and to strengthen the socio-economic structure of rural areas, including attracting the next generation of farmers to the sector.  

Eco-schemes: The plan puts forward six eco-schemes, including permanent pasture land, broadening its slaughtering capacities and organic agriculture. 

Reactions: While the plans have not sparked a huge amount of controversy, Henrik Bertelsen, a representative from the agriculture, food and agroindustry organisation Landbrug og Fødevarer, was critical of the plan and the overall CAP reform over fears that the rules and requirements may be too complex for farmers, and therefore ineffective. Meanwhile, a representative for part-time farmers in Landbrug og Fødevarer, Jens Simonsen, was optimistic about the overall plans of promoting more nature, but refrained from commenting on the Danish plan given that it is not yet final.  However, he said that he would like to have seen more eco-schemes put forward. 

Commission recommendations: Denmark should enhance its competitiveness and market orientation by maintaining a strong focus on research, development and innovation to be able to adapt agricultural production to future challenges and focus on preserving and reinforcing the cooperative structure, considering that the high level of control by farmers of the food supply chain facilitates long-term investments to adapt to future challenges, including managing operational risk for the primary producers. The Commission adds that support must be distributed more evenly between different farm sizes and carbon farming must be given a stronger focus. Denmark should in particular consider high diversity landscape features in intensively managed agricultural landscapes, the Commission said, and improve the use of energy along the food supply chain. Denmark should also promote generational renewal while paying attention to the gender imbalance.

CAP submitted: Estonia was one of the countries that submitted its national plan before the end of 2021 deadline. You can find a link to the plan here.

Food security and sustainability. According to the country’s representation to the EU, Estonia’s strategic plan aims to ensure viable food production, secure the livelihood of rural areas, and make agriculture more sustainable “in the face of environmental and climate challenges”.

The measures set to achieve this include targeted support and investment aid for SMEs in order to increase innovation, a spokesperson told EURACTIV.

Moreover, the country aims to “help farmers address the Green Deal targets” by earmarking a higher share of CAP payments from both pillars for agri-environment measures than is minimally required by the EU.

Commission recommendations: Estonia should strengthen the competitive position of the agricultural sector by improving access to finance, in particular by reviewing financial instruments to be used in conjunction with the CAP. The Baltic country is also asked to put in place more ambitious animal welfare measures, especially for pigs and laying hens, and improve biosecurity in view of African swine fever (ASF) risk.

CAP submitted: Finland was one of the countries that submitted its national plan before the end of 2021 deadline. You can find the plan here.

Commission recommendations: Finland should promote productivity-increasing investments and address the financing gaps, e.g. by enhancing the value-added of agricultural production. The country should strengthen efforts to reduce ammonia emissions, in particular from the livestock sector, and increase the area under organic farming. Finland should also increase nutrient use efficiency and limit the leaching of nutrients affecting coastal areas and Baltic Sea. The country should continue efforts in promoting the generational renewal, and promote and invest in the expansion of broadband in rural and remote areas.

New faces: France’s agriculture minister, Julien Denormandie, has stepped down to be replaced with Marc Fesneau, who has been given a new title of ‘Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty”. Fesneau is now in charge of overseeing the second drafting of France’s CAP plan, as well as a number of other key French files. EURACTIV France reports.

CAP talks could be impacted by recent French fallow land derogation: While the war in Ukraine continues, French farmers are permitted to cultivate fallow land in order to increase production. The question now is whether the direction of the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) will also be affected. EURACTIV France reports.

All on track: France submitted its national strategic plan to the European Commission on time (22 December 2021). You can find the plan here.

Key aims: The priorities put forward by the French ministry of Agriculture include developing legume production, doubling organic farming areas by 2027, and creating synergies between crops and livestock. In terms of greening its agricultural system, France wants to use the resources of the future CAP to support the diversification of crops and the planting of hedges to favour biodiversity and carbon storage. Carbon farming and the preservation of permanent grasslands are other hot topics for France’s Agrifood minister Julien Denormandie.

Mixed reactions: Reactions to the French NSP are far from unanimous. While the main French farmers’ syndicate (FNSEA) calls the French plan “acceptable”, the French organic farmers’ union (FNAB) sees it as a “national strategic disappointment”. According to FNSEA’s first vice-president Arnaud Rousseau, France’s NSP strikes a “balance” between the necessity to preserve farmers’ incomes and developing a more sustainable agriculture. On the contrary, for the national secretary of the FNAP Loïc Madeline, the French strategy is marked by “immobilism” and will not allow to put France on the path towards a full-scale agroecological transition. To learn more, see here.

Calls for rejection: Green MEPs have called on the European Commission to reject France’s national strategy plan. The French NSP “will not allow the French agriculture to contribute to the European Green Deal”, the French Greens in the European Parliament claim. In a letter sent to the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, on Monday (17 January), the MEPs thus plead to not approve the French NSP. As France, the EU’s biggest agriculture and CAP beneficiary, has just taken over the presidency of the Council of the EU, the Commission’s arbitrations “will necessarily be watched with great interest by the other Member States”. The French NSP was thus “of crucial European importance”. However, the French strategic plan was not only “incompatible” with the European Green Deal, but also in contradiction with EU objectives set out in the European Water Framework and Nitrate directives, the signatories claim. “The ball is in your court now,” they stressed, urging Commissioner Wojciechowski not to compromise the “political pillar of its mandate”, the European Green Deal.

Public consultation launch: The French ministry of Agriculture launched a public consultation on its National Strategic Plan on Friday (12 November). As the ministry states on its website, “France is fully in line with the desire expressed by the European Commission and the European co-legislators […] for a CAP that aims to stabilise agricultural incomes and guarantee food supplies for Europeans at reasonable prices and to support the ecological transition of the agricultural and forestry sectors”. French citizens, communities, public institutions, NGOs and CAP beneficiaries have until 12 December to share their opinion on the French NSP for 2023-27.

“New milestone” reached: 99 % of French CAP beneficiaries (295500 farmers), have received the balance of aid from the 1st pillar of the CAP and the Compensatory Allowance for Natural Handicaps (ICHN) for 2021. While the 2015 and 2016 campaigns were marked by “significant” delays in the payment of CAP aid to farmers (more than a year in some cases), this year’s figures show a “historic achievement both in terms of amounts and the share of beneficiaries paid at this time of year”, according to the French ministry of Agriculture. “A new milestone has been reached in the payment of Common Agricultural Policy aids,” French Agrifood minister Julien Denormandie commented. Given their importance for the economic viability of many farms, “the Government has made the acceleration of their payments a priority since 2017”, he said.  On 13 December, the French government disbursed €2,12 billion to farmers, for a total amount of €7,17 billion for 2021. Another payment is planned for 22 December, and remaining balances of aids are to be distributed in the first trimester of 2022.

Commission recommendations: France must improve the resilience of the agricultural sector against market and climatic events. The Commission commends previous efforts to improve the distribution of support in France and say current efforts built on by continuing the internal convergence process. Sectoral initiatives and cooperation, especially in sectors with lower or decreasing competitiveness, and cross-sectoral cooperation at territorial level should help enhance the sector. To strengthen efforts to reduce GHG emissions, France should support strengthen advisory services and promoting on-farm GHG assessment tools to improve energy and climate performance. France should also promote a transition to high environmental value production systems such as low-input, agro-forestry, agro-ecological and biodiversity-friendly approaches, including integrated pest management, and enhance organic farming. The country should improve animal welfare, especially for pigs and laying hens, and the transport of animals. It should also take advantage of the relatively high share of young farmer population, and focus on increasing the attractiveness of rural areas and strengthening the AKIS to enhance the sustainability performance and competitiveness of the agricultural sector and related activities. 

Germany to review its CAP plan in light of Ukraine war. Germany will re-examine its plans for the implementation of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in light of the war in Ukraine, the agriculture ministry said in response to the European Commission’s call to move towards ‘resilient and sustainable’ agriculture. EURACTIV Germany has more. 

German agri minister pleased with Commission’s criticism of CAP strategic plan. In its observation letter on Germany’s plans for implementing the EU agricultural reform, the European Commission made far-reaching criticisms and called for more environmental and climate protection. German agriculture minister Cem Özdemir, however, welcomes the complaints. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Finally submitted: One and a half months after the deadline, Germany submitted its strategic plan to the Commission on 21 February. More info, as well as the full, 1800-page document, can be found here. The document was handed over by agriculture minister Cem Özdemir, who had taken office in December, after much of the work on the plan had already been done by his predecessor.

What did the new government change? The short answer is: not much. While many had wondered whether the delay in finalising the plan was due to the new Green minister making changes to what his conservative predecessor had hammered out, the changes made turned out to be minimal. Instead, the extra time mostly seems to have gone into the federal regions finalising their contributions to the plan.

The most notable adjustments concern organic farming: The new government had raised the national organics target to 30% of agricultural land by 2030, and has now incorporated the goal into the strategic plan. Özdemir also stressed that the coherence between eco-schemes and second-pillar support for organic farming had been improved “on the final stretch”. The risk that organic farms might not be able to take part in the eco-schemes, which are meant to reward environmentally friendly practices, had been a main point of contention for stakeholders.

What’s the deal with the Länder? As a federal state, Germany leaves most of the design of pillar 2 funds, including rural development funding and agri-environment measures, up to the federal states, the Länder. Meanwhile, the national government is responsible for the direct payments and eco-schemes comprised in pillar 1.

First reactions: Most stakeholders and commentators agreed that the new government did not change much to the plan and maintained earlier criticisms. Konstantin Kreiser from environmental organisation NABU told EURACTIV Germany it was “clear that the current plan is not enough to bring Germany on track to reach the Green Deal targets”. The chair of the agriculture committee in the European Parliament (AGRI), the German Christian-democrat Norbert Lins, said it was “completely incomprehensible” that the plan’s submission had taken six extra weeks, given that the document reflected an agreement between the federal government and the regions “already reached in December.” The German farmers’ association (DBV), too, reiterated the criticisms it already had on earlier drafts, including that the CAP’s “green architecture” for the remuneration of sustainable farming was “not practicable on the ground” in its current form.

Even minister Cem Özdemir himself seemed to acknowledge that he did not have the opportunity to make the final product into what he would have wished for. “In terms of rewarding public services, the fresh start for EU agriculture subsidies could have been bolder,” he said.

Open questions on Green Deal alignment: In its plan, Germany chose not to fill in the section detailing how the plan will align with the goals of the EU’s Green Deal. While this is not mandatory for member states, environmentalists criticised the decision as a sign that the new minister was not confident Germany will be able deliver on the green goals.

Background: The German Bundestag had passed a legislative package to implement the new CAP at the national level already in June even when the reform had not been concluded yet in Brussels. The reason was that the legislative process for the CAP transposition had to be completed before the federal elections to prevent the laws from being subject to discontinuity. To clarify remaining details and incorporate the requirements set out in the EU-level legislation, the outgoing government cabinet also passed additional executive directives on 24 November, which the Bundesrat approved mid-December. Among other things, the two directives provide for premium levels and requirements for the country’s catalogue of eco-schemes, as well as additional specifications on the enhanced conditionality criteria.

You can also find a timeline (in German) of how Germany is advancing with its plan here.

Commission recommendations: Germany needs to work on both the resilience and the viability of farms located in areas facing natural constraints. Actions to decrease the impacts of extreme weather events, further strengthen water efficiency in farming, and invest in flood prevention and protection should be facilitated in affected regions. The EU executive also asked to reduce the use and risk of pesticides by giving priority to non-chemical pest management practices and ensuring the uptake of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Greece one of the first to submit: Greece was among the first EU countries to submit its national strategic plan, which outlines the creation of three separate funds for pasture, arable and tree crops, amounting 26.9%, 45.6% and 27.5% of the budget respectively. The plan also sets out to clamp down on so-called ‘armchair’ farmers and ensure that money and benefits are only going to active farmers, as per specific criteria. You can find a link to the plan here.
 
Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food presents its plan.  The European funds for the period 2023-2027 will amount to €13.4 billion. Within the framework of the plan, two pillars are envisioned: Pillar A (direct payments) and Pillar B (rural development programmes). Direct payments include – among others: basic aid (€4.39 billion) to active farmers who meet certain criteria, specific aid for cotton (€920 million), as well as optional eco-shemes (€2.1 billion) – such as the promotion of agroforestry and the maintenance of organic farming and livestock farming methods. Rural development programmes include: agri-environment and climate actions (€779.36 million), setting up of young farmers (€590 million), and knowledge and IT transfer (€145 million). “We are strengthening the investment pillar of the CAP, prioritising the modernisation of the primary sector with digital and green investments. In addition, we are creating a new generation of farmers, promoting the age renewal of the sector,” said Greek agriculture minister Spilios Livanos.
 
Greek agri minister: Ukraine war to shake up Greek CAP plan: Greece is planning to reshape its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plan in light of the Ukraine war to strengthen resilience and expand farmers’ finance and risk management tools, Georgios Georgantas told EURACTIV Greece in an interview.
 
Commission recommendations: Greece must improve the resilience of farms through a fairer, more effective and efficient distribution of direct payments, and improve environmental standards by prioritising interventions in actions that promote permanent grassland and their environmental protection. It should also work to improve farmers’ position in the food supply chain and targeting higher added value products, like organic, which should be specifically encouraged. In terms of climate and environmental action, Greece should develop its bio-economy by increasing the contribution of agricultural waste and by-products to produce renewable energy, although warns that at the same time it must work to preserve the attractiveness of rural landscapes. Greece should focus on improving soil health by addressing soil erosion, addressing water use efficiency, especially in light of climate change projections for water scarcity, and encouraging carbon sequestration though carbon farming and sustainable forest management. Greece must prepare for a multitude of environmental issues, including drought, flood protection and adaptation to high wildfire risk. It should also strengthen efforts on generational renewal in agriculture by reducing the entry barriers in the sector, especially financial barriers, and should focus on tackling poverty, unemployment, and the employment gender gap, as well as rolling out broadband to rural areas. 

Just in the nick of time: Hungary has managed to submit its strategic plan just in the nick of time at the end of 2021, according to the Budapest Business Journal. Speaking on Thursday (30 December), the Minister of Agriculture, István Nagy, said that Hungary is “modernising the agriculture and food supply sectors that are the backbone of the rural economy, while preserving the natural values of our created world, allowing for an improved quality of life for people in the countryside, and providing support to small- and medium-sized farms”. The decision to raise the national co-financing threshold to the maximum 8o% will make 6,253 billion forints (€16.9bn) in funding available for farming, food industry and rural community developments, he added.

Commission recommendations: Hungary must address the income gaps among different (professional) farm sizes, sectors and territories and strengthen redistribution between farms. It should also promote the market orientation and competitiveness of the farming and agri-food sector by further supporting investments in logistics and processing and strengthen the position of farmers in the food chain and supporting ways to add value to products. Hungary must also prepare agriculture for challenges on water management and incentivise sustainable (re)conversion and maintenance of organic farming. It should also promote climate mitigation practices, e.g. by designing carbon farming approaches to remunerate carbon sequestration, and must work to reversing depopulation and ageing trends in rural Hungary by making the agricultural sector more attractive for newcomers and supporting the use of smart, innovative and local solutions that address issues of access to land, credit and training, and fostering knowledge, skills and technological development.

Successful submission: On December 21, the Government agreed to submit Ireland’s draft CAP strategic plan to the European Commission. Speaking at the time, Irish agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue said he believes the country has created a strategic plan that will “help to achieve our ambitious environmental goals, while also delivering income security for family farms for the period 2023-2027”. “The budget commitment of almost €10 billion, and in particular the massive increase in national co-funding, is also a real demonstration of the commitment of this Government to farmers and to the wider rural economy,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but the draft Plan provides a solid foundation on which to build,” he added. 

Does not hit the right notes for farmers: The plan has been slammed by the Irish farmers association (IFA) who believe that the proposed CAP strategic plan doesn’t strike the right balance between environmental, economic and social sustainability. IFA President Tim Cullinan said in a statement that the plan will “hit a cohort of our most productive farmers who will see a devastating cut in their Basic Payment. Many beef, sheep and tillage farmers who do not have off-farm income will find it very difficult to achieve viability.”

Turning nice words into action: How has Ireland used the flexibility of the CAP legal framework post-2022 to design a fairer CAP Strategic Plan? A new policy analysis, researched and written by Matteo Metta for the Left group in the European Parliament (GUE), assesses fairness in Ireland’s CAP submission. Check it out on ARC2020.

Protests: A number of Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) protests took place during October 2021 in the south of the country in response to the announcement of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plan funding allocations after they were denounced for being the “single biggest threat” to farming livelihoods, according to Agriland. Speaking at one of the protests, the president of the IFA, Tim Cullinan, said that buried behind “all the hype and big headline figures” in the CAP plan announcement lies “savage cuts to a cohort of farmers”. “This comes on top of farmers being hit with climate targets without any impact assessment of the consequences for individual farmers or rural Ireland,” he pointed out. 

Commission recommendations: Ireland should look to diversify its products and markets, ranging from exports to local and agro-tourism, and invest in quality aspects, including environmental labelling, EU and other quality schemes, organic farming.  The country should also focus on improving the viability of medium-sized farms and the efficiency of income support, in particular via internal convergence and by applying, for example, the complementary redistributive income support for sustainability and the reduction of payments. It should encourage improvements to the efficiency of enteric fermentation in farmed livestock in line with the Methane Strategy, and halt the deterioration of Irish peatlands and encourage their restoration. Ireland is also advised to step up efforts to encourage tree-planting in various configurations – including agro-forestry systems and make significant efforts to increase the area farmed organically. To improve the resilience of the farming sector to climate risks, Ireland should look to support partnerships between livestock and arable farms and the creation of fodder reserves and put in place more ambitious measures to support farmers to improve livestock management practices, especially for pigs and male dairy calves.

Observation letter: Italy decided to publish its observation letter from the European Commission, which you can find here.

Plan submitted: The Italian ministry of Agriculture submitted the plan to Brussels in the first days of January (the news on the ministry website is dated January 7), despite previous suggestions that Italy was behind schedule. You can find a link to the plan here.

Main objectives: The main objectives outlined in the plan are to enhance the competitiveness of the agricultural system from a sustainable perspective, to strengthen the resilience and vitality of rural areas, to promote quality agricultural and forestry work and safety in the workplace, to support the ability to activate exchanges of knowledge, research and innovations, and the optimisation of the governance
system.

Show me the money:  To reach these goals, the plan earmarks €10 billion, between the first and second pillar, for interventions with clear environmental purposes, with 25% of direct aid resources will be allocated to 5 national eco-schemes, as well as €2.5 billion for organic farming and €1.8 billion euros for the improvement of animal welfare conditions and the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It also provides for €3 billion for new risk management tools.

Main aims: The plan aims to ensure a more equitable income aid system, including a significant rebalancing in the allocation of direct payment resources towards the benefit of intermediate rural areas and rural areas with development problems, including mountain areas and
some inland hilly areas, as well as the strengthening the competitiveness of supply chains, with the aim of improving the positioning
of farmers along the value chain. It also aims to guarantee greater equity and safety in working conditions.

Plan slammed by NGOs: The plan has not satisfied environmental NGOs. For example, the Cambiamo Agriculture coalition (which
includes FederBio, Legambiente, WWF, Slow Food and Lipu) said in a statement that the plan is “against nature” because the part on biodiversity conservation has disappeared from the final version, and the set of measures envisaged is very uncertain. “Insisting
on investments all concentrated on conventional agriculture will open up a worrying prospect also on the economic and employment level,” the NGOs said, adding that, by distancing itself from organic farming, Italy risks “losing the leadership gained over the years”.

But no major changes foreseen by Italy’s agri minister: Stefano Patuanelli, Italian minister of Agriculture, told EURACTIV Italy that while some observations from Bruxelles may arrive on how to apply the eco-schemes, he doesn’t think there will be “wide-ranging objections”. In the meantime, the Italian government is “discussing with the regions on the FeAsr division, that is, on the regional allocation of the resources of the second pillar,” he said.

Work in process: In April 2021, Italy’s agriculture ministry set up a national coordination group bringing together all the country’s main agriculture stakeholders in order to contribute together to the preparation of the national strategic plan. The process of drafting the Italian strategic plan officially started on 8 September with a meeting that involved institutional, social and economic actors. According to the Italian agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli, the work carried out by the group in recent weeks has been focused on the assessment of what the sector needs and on the so-called ‘green architecture’ of the new CAP. “Eco-schemes are the most innovative element in the green architecture of the new CAP and represent a delicate issue, as they affect the direct payments mechanism, which for decades has been an essential element for the subsistence of many farms,” the minister pointed out.

Commission recommendations: Italy should address the low level of digitalisation in agriculture completing investments for fast broadband connection coverage reaching the door of all households in rural areas. In a bid to mitigate climate change, it should be ensured an appropriate blend of voluntary interventions and obligations such as supporting practices leading to more efficient input use. Encouraging more young people to move into farming, improving animal welfare especially for pigs and laying hens, and enhancing the increasing trend of areas under organic farming are among the other recommendations for Italy.

Plan missing in action: Latvia was one of the 9 EU countries that failed to submit their plan to the European Commission on time. However, it submitted its plan on 18 January, which can be found here.

Competitiveness and farm income in focus: Fostering the production of competitive products for domestic and export markets is among the priorities of Latvia’s strategic plan, according to the country’s representation to the EU. The plan also sets out to raise rural household incomes to the national average and to make safe and quality food accessible to all consumers, a spokesperson told EURACTIV.

“Thriving rural areas” are another priority, which Latvia aims to support by stimulating the regions’ economic activity, providing infrastructure and combatting population outflows. Moreover, the plan aims to “foster knowledge-based entrepreneurship by promoting innovation and the translation of scientific results into practice, the spokesperson added.

Apart from instruments like eco-schemes, agri-environment measures or basic income support, Latvia will also offer, among other things, support for knowledge transfer, advisory services and risk management as well as for sectoral interventions.

A busy year ahead: After the adoption of the relevant EU-level delegated and implementing acts, Latvia is now looking to adopt the national legislation that is needed for the implementation of the new CAP within this year. This will include two horizontal regulations by the Cabinet of Ministers, as well as several specific ones for different interventions. Moreover, the country will use 2022 to prepare the administrative and digital infrastructure necessary for the new measures to be put in place.

Commission recommendations: Latvia must improve the viability of farms with lower incomes, especially smaller farms with higher development potential, through more targeted and effective distribution of direct payments. Making farmers more resilient to risks – market disruption, climate change, and plant/animal health – together with improving their position in the food supply chain are also key to ensuring food security through CAP.

Delayed submission: Lithuania was one of the 9 EU countries that failed to submit their plan to the European Commission on time after sources revealed that Lithuania was one of the member states that expressed difficulties in meeting the deadline. 

Plan submitted: However, Lithuania did successfully manage to submit its national strategic plan in mid-January, according to media reports, who added that the Lithuanian ministry sent the letter of confirmation from the Commission to journalists as a proof of submission. You can find the plan here.

Commission recommendations: Lithuania is asked to reducing pressure from the agricultural sector on natural resources by cutting ammonia emissions, increasing soil organic carbon content, better nutrient management and increasing nutrient use efficiency. At the same time, the country must raise entrepreneurship in rural areas and improving/diversifying rural incomes – including forestry, rural tourism and untapped potential offered by the bio-economy.

Submitted with last-minute tweaks. Luxembourg’s strategic plan was adopted by the country’s government council on 21 January and submitted to the European Commission immediately afterwards, according to the agricultural ministry. You can find the plan here.

While the plan had been drafted under the leadership of outgoing minister Romain Schneider, it was newly-appointed minister Claude Haagen who presented the final document. Haagen, who only took office in January 2022, made a number of last-minute changes to the plan to give it its “final touch”, according to the ministry.

With the adoption of the plan, Luxembourg “reaffirms its commitment to the introduction of a new CAP, which secures a fair income for farmers and guides the sector’s green transition”, Haagen said. The vision for agriculture set out in the plan reflected the “three pillars of economic, ecological, and social sustainability”, he added.

Young farmers in the spotlight. According to the ministry, Luxembourg’s plan is geared towards three main priorities. First and foremost, it aims to ensure an adequate income and a high level of competitiveness for farmers, while giving small- and medium-sized farms a fairer share of CAP payments.

The second priority is sustainability. To this end, the country wants to dedicate a larger share of the budget to environment, climate, and animal protection. 25% of direct payments are earmarked for eco-schemes.

Finally, the country wants to support the generational renewal in agriculture in order to avoid farms being given up. This is set to be achieved through young farmers’ payments as well as new business support.

Next steps. While the Commission is assessing Luxembourg’s plan, the country is preparing a new agricultural law to legally enshrine the measures set out in the document. The law is set to enter into force in January 2023, in time for the start of the new CAP funding period.

To dig in: The full text of Luxembourg’s plan (in French) can be found here. Further information and documentation is available in German and in French.

Commission recommendations: Luxembourg should enhance the resilience of farms by improving fairness of income support towards smaller farms and continuing the modernisation or transformation of farms, particularly in the livestock sector. It should also look towards ways to increase the added value of agricultural production for farmers by supporting quality schemes, and increasing consumer interest in such quality aspects and in organic food, and look to reduce non-CO2 emissions from the livestock sector and soil fertilisation. It focus on improving air and water quality and reinforce the protection of biodiversity, including encouraging pest management beneficial for pollinators and prioritising non-chemical methods. The country should also increase the surface area under organic farming and enhance multifunctional and sustainable forest management, protection and restoration of forests ecosystems while enhancing the conditions for new, young farmers to start agricultural activity outside the family setting, including young female farmers, and creating employment opportunities in farming. 

Plan submitted: Malta officially submitted its CAP strategic plan in December 2021 after work commenced in 2019 through engagement with various stakeholders who contributed towards identifying the needs and objectives of the Plan. In Q4 2021, a public consultation exercise on the CAP Plan for public consultation was also carried out.

Main aims: According to a Maltese government representative, strategically, the plan aims to contribute towards the three general objectives outlined in the CAP SP regulation, by fostering competitiveness, and sustainability, enabling a shift towards environmental measures, and enhancing community led development in rural areas. 

Reactions: According to the government representative, reactions to the plan were generally positive and participation from relevant stakeholders was proactive, to include relevant suggestions. Further information on the public consultation document can be accessed from the following link.

Commission recommendations: Malta should look to improve value added in the agricultural sector by supporting investments in cost reduction and quality production, e.g. in developing niche markets. It should also look to enhance the position of the farmer in the value chain and aim to involve farmers more in downstream activities. The country should improve overall carbon farming capacity and support the reintroduction of local breeds and crop varieties that are more resilient in drier conditions. It should also aim to·cut ammonia emissions in agriculture by supporting low-emission management practices and related investments, including precision farming. Malta should enhance agricultural modernisation and improve farm business development to attract young farmers by addressing the entry barriers to the sector (i.e. access to land) and incentivising the use of smart, green and digital technologies as part of efforts to increase employment and creation of high-quality jobs in rural areas by investments in diverse economic activities and in developing basic services.

Observation letter: The Netherlands has chosen to publish its observation letter from the Commission, which you can find here.

Plan submitted: The Netherlands has now submitted its plan to the Commission, which you can find here. Interested stakeholders have until 1 February to submit their views to the government, which could possibly lead to an adjustment of the NSP.

Fostering innovation. According to the agriculture ministry, the Netherlands’ plan is set to “reward future-oriented farmers more strongly”, focusing support on sustainability and innovation. More specifically, it aims to fund contributions to biodiversity, climate protection, and healthy soils, water, and air.

Apart from 25 eco-schemes that farmers can choose from, the plan also provides for project grants to foster innovation and sustainable investments. Knowledge hubs and independent consultants to advise farms will also be funded. This way, the country aims to help farms become less dependent on public subsidies.

The overall volume of funding amounts to € 4.7 billion, whereof a “considerably” higher budget is allocated to the second pillar than was previously the case, according to the ministry.

Next steps. After their entry into force, the country also plans on closely monitoring the effectiveness of the new measures in terms of economic and ecological impacts. In 2025, a mid-term evaluation is foreseen.

Commission recommendations: The national strategic plan should consider investments in high-quality and/or distinctive food characteristics, including organic production, and increasing the efficiency of supply chain management. Among the main objectives, there is also the goal of reducing nutrient pollution of water and air, as well as nitrogen deposition below their critical level in nitrogen-vulnerable Natura 2000 sites.

Successful submission, despite previous concerns: Poland’s government has finally accepted its CAP national strategic plan on the 14th of December 2021, and submitted it to the European Commission roughly a week later, on the 22nd of December. This is despite the fact that EURACTIV was informed back in October that Poland was among the member states that have warned that they may miss the deadline entirely.  You can find the plan here.

What’s in the plan? Some of the main focuses are sustainable development within polish farmsteads, improving living standards in rural areas and guaranteeing long-term food security whilst maintaining competitiveness in the sector. It also includes 16 eco-schemes alongside other measures to make polish agriculture more eco-friendly.

Reactions from farming community: Many farmers are concerned that introducing the new plan would mean they get fewer subsidies in turn for more obligations, but their concerns very often stem not from the provisions of the national plan alone, but from scepticism towards the Green New Deal as a whole, a topic which the EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski has discussed extensively with polish farmers on Twitter. Many farmers voice their disapproval for the idea of eco-schemes. Meanwhile, the former minister of agriculture, Jan Ardanowski, has also criticised both the Green New Deal and the national plan for being ill-adapted to Polish agriculture. The reception of the plan could – at best – be described as mixed.

Commission recommendations: Poland should aim to increase competitiveness and productivity of the agrifood sector through support for investments and financial instruments, and improve the viability of farms through ensuring a fairer and better targeting of income support by reducing income gaps between different farm sizes. There needs to be a “rebalancing the power in the food supply chain”. Local small and medium size processors should be recognised as important players to strengthen the position of farmers and to balance bargaining power in the supply chain, and support schemes should also be used to encourage farmers to develop and participate in short supply chains, and in the production of high value added products, to attract and educate consumers. The country should focus on reducing emissions related to fertiliser use on soils and avoiding carbon release from organic soils, including peatlands, and on better livestock management (ruminants), including “sizeable efforts” to significantly reduce the use of antimicrobials in farming. Reducing water scarcity by significantly stepping up support for nature-based solutions and appropriate land management practices should be a key aim, and the country should significantly step up efforts to halt the decrease and stimulate an increase in the area under organic farming and demand for organic products in Poland. The country should also promote employment, growth, social inclusion and local development in rural areas, by addressing the age unbalance in rural areas and in the agriculture sector through investments targeted to attract young people, e.g. through further developing broadband capacities in rural areas.

Plan submitted: Portugal’s CAP strategic plan (comprising 2018 pages) was submitted to the European Commission on 30 December 2021. The document is public via the following link.  According to sources, the plan received a good preliminary assessment at the DG AGRI technical level. 

Immediate criticism: A letter has been sent to the European Commission in which 22 organisations denounce the non-compliance of Portugal’s CAP plan with recommendations of the European Commission, calling it “flawed and inaccurate”. The organisations ask for the Commission to take action to remedy this in its observation letter.

Commission recommendations: Portugal must encourage business-oriented farm management and increase the average economic farm size and productivity, through better organisation of the sector, stimulating farm capital investments. At the same time, the country should reduce the depopulation trend, risk of poverty and gender employment gap in rural areas by promoting a multi-funded strategy, ensuring synergies between EU and national funds, creating the conditions and infrastructure for the setting-up of businesses, quality employment and training opportunities in rural areas.

And then there was one: Romania became the second to last country to submit its CAP plan to the Commission for approval on 28 February, two months after the deadline. Officially, the reason given is the late adoption of the CAP and the need to adapt the national plan to the final version of the policy. “We sent to Brussels a complex plan, which together with all the support programmes we finance from the national budget, contributes to the development of the Romanian agriculture,” Agriculture Minister Adrian Chesnoiu said. He promised the plan will bring “the stability and predictability that Romanian farmers need in order to maintain production at high levels and to remain competitive in a constantly evolving market”.

Less than impressed: Romania has previously demanded that the EU Council improves the text of regulation for drafting the CAP national strategic plans. One of the requirements refers to the provision on irrigation which, in the opinion of the Romanian government, “must be improved from the perspective of eligibility in order to make investments in secondary infrastructure, as requested in the council of ministers.”

Commission recommendations: Romania needs to making farmers’ income less vulnerable to external factors, including climate change. Commission suggest increasing sustainable agricultural management practices (no-till, strip-till especially on slopes, crop rotation with forage-legume crops), the use of risk management tools, investments in new technologies, and planting of forest. Reducing the economic and social gap between urban and rural areas, reducing poverty in rural areas, with a specific attention to vulnerable groups is another area that needs to be addressed in the strategic plan.

Plan submitted: The Slovak government approved its strategic plan on 10 February and then sent it to the European Commission for review.

Top controversies: Perhaps the most controversial topic in preparing the strategic plan was the redistribution of funding from the first pillar between large and small farms. Slovakia has one of the largest average farm sizes in the EU, both in terms of the size of cultivated land but also the concentration of direct payments, which is the highest of all EU member states. A fifth of the largest recipients receive approximately 94% of all direct payments. The controversy mainly centres around differing views on whether large or small and family farmers are more efficient in producing food. 

Ministry backed small farmers: The ministry opted for the second option. For the new programming period, the Slovak government will introduce for the first time a cap of €100,000 on direct payments and also redistributive payments worth €80 for the first 100 hectares and €40 for the next 50 hectares. In addition, young farmers will also receive a complementary payment. Hence, farmers under 40 years of age owning farms of up to 150 hectares will receive €300 per hectare, which is almost €200 more than “standard” farmers.

Reactions: Slovakia’s largest agricultural organisation (SPPK), which brings together mainly large farms, has long rejected these proposals, calling them “a populist and demagogue” and warning it will not help either small farmers or the productivity of the sector. However, feeling social pressure, the association has finally accepted them. “Small farmers will now have the opportunity to show if they can grow what we need with decoupled payments. So they will definitely have room for that,” the head of SPPK Emil Macho said after the approval of the document.

Land fragmentation: Another key challenge in Slovakia is land fragmentation, which was inherited from the era of collectivism and communism.  To address this, the ministry of agriculture planned to allocate up to €200 million from the Rural Development Program.   According to SPPK, this is a cross-society and cross-sectoral problem that should not be solved with money intended for farmers and rural development. Farmers therefore rejected the proposals and were even ready to protest against this, Macho told EURACTIV Slovakia. The ministry eventually backed down, instead setting aside €40 million to adjust land ownership.

Some surprising support: In general, however, farmers view the plan favourably and, in the final phase of approval, no major reservations were raised against it. Most surprisingly, the document is also positively evaluated by the environmentalists who were involved in its preparation. The new eco-schemes, which are to be focused mainly on the protection of farmland biodiversity and soil health, are considered the biggest game-changer, according to them. “After many years of calling for a fundamental change in support, we are finally seeing the right development. There has been no such positive step since our accession to the European Union,” Jozef Ridzoň from the Slovak Ornithological Society / BirdLife Slovakia told Dennik N daily. 

Lagging behind: Despite the fact that the Slovak ministry of agriculture told EURACTIV Slovakia back in October that the country will submit a CAP strategic plan to the Commission within the required deadline, Slovakia was one of the 9 member states that missed the end of year deadline. However, the agriculture ministry opened a national consultation for its national strategic plan on 4 January 2022, but stakeholders have criticised the fact that they will only have five days to comment on the 1,000-page document before it is sent to the Commission for approval, the date for which is still currently unknown. More in Slovak at EURACTIV.sk.

Main ambitions: The main goal of the strategic plan is to streamline and increase the food production of the Slovak agricultural sector. Self-sufficiency in the sector has for long been one of the hottest agri-food-food related topic, since it is one of the lowest in the EU. The Ministry wants to achieve this by better targeting of direct payments to selected sectors of animal and speciality crop production, smaller farms, farms with a larger number of employees and young farmers.

Reactions: So far, large agri organisations have expressed concerns over the capping of direct payments and redistributive payment. Smaller farmers, on the other hand, find the capping too benevolent. Eco-schemes are also a cause for concern, with farmers worrying they will have to do more environmental measures for less money. However, environmental activists are more or less satisfied with what is currently on the table, even though they have called for a stricter set-up of eco-schemes to better protect biodiversity and soil.

V4 farmers demand postponement of new CAP due to Ukraine war. Representatives of the largest agricultural organisations of the four Visegrad Group states and five other countries have jointly called for a temporary postponement of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, as well as of other environmental measures. Learn more.

Increased support for small and medium-sized farms: Ján Pokrivčák, head of the Institute of Agricultural Policy, who is responsible for the preparation of the Slovak CAP strategic plan, has pledged more support for small and medium farmers in an interview for EURACTIV Slovakia. According to him, Slovakia’s low food self-sufficiency (less than 50%) is the result of the “management of large farms”. The structure of the Slovak agri-food sector is dominated by large agricultural enterprises. The concentration of direct payments in Slovakia is the highest among the EU member states – up to 94% of all direct payments end up in the accounts of 20% of farms. To address this, the Ministry of Agriculture, therefore, wants to redirect a bigger part of the payments to small and medium-sized farms. From 2023, it plans to introduce both a cap of €100,000 on direct payments and a redistributive payment. “We believe that if this regulation passes through, large farms will adapt to it by improving the structure of production in order to increase employment,“ he said, adding that small farms have a “high added value”.(Marián Koreň | EURACTIV.sk)

Commission recommendations: There needs to be a rebalancing the distribution of power in vertical chains, according to the Commission, which can be achieved by strengthening the role of producer organisations and the participation of small farmers in them, as well as diversification from conventional agricultural and foodstuffs to sustainable and high added value ones (such as EU quality schemes and organic food). Slovakia should also focus on improving the viability of farms by better addressing the income gaps among different (professional) farm sizes, sectors and territories, and improve the resilience of the agricultural sector through promotion of risk management tools. The country should foster a conversion from conventional farming to organic, and increase resilience to climate change by increasing water efficiency through modernisation of water infrastructure and rainwater harvesting, crop adaptation and appropriate land management practices improving water retention in soils. The country should also focus on protecting and expanding their forests, and strengthen the efforts to decrease the quantities and risks of most hazardous used pesticides. It should promote the socio-economic development of rural areas by supporting the development of economic activities in rural areas through mobilisation of activities in new sectors (i.e. developing the bio-economy), and focus on improve the connectivity of rural areas. 

Plan submitted: Slovenia was among the 18 member states that managed to submit its plan to the Commission by the end of 2021 deadline. You can find the plan here.

Young farmers and habitats. According to the agricultural ministry, Slovenia’s plan aims to ensure high-quality food production within the country, protect natural resources, and preserve the vitality of rural areas.

To keep the volume of food production and area dedicated from shrinking, the country wants to improve the position of farmers within food supply chains and promote generational renewal. To this end, the plan foresees a range of support measures for young farmers, including new business and investment support as well as funding for knowledge transfer and innovation.

Within the eco-schemes and agri-environment measures set out in the plan, Slovakia puts a focus on the protection of “Special Areas of Conservation” – habitats that are identified to be of European interest according to the EU’s Habitats Directive. The country will also provide financial support for the development and sustainable use of genetic resources for plant production.

Commission recommendations: Slovenia has to mitigate disadvantageous farm structure by significantly strengthening the cooperation between producers and producer organisations, by increasing market orientation of production. There should be an improvement in the biodiversity status of protected habitats and species, including wild pollinators through the support for management practices aimed at the maintenance or restoration of the habitats and species’ favourable conservation status, as well as an improvement to the size of agricultural area under high diversity landscape features.

Observation letter: Spain has chosen to publish its observation letter from the European Commission, which you can find here.

Just in the nick of time: The Spanish strategic plan for the national implementation of the CAP was submitted to the European Commission for approval last 29th December, according to EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro. 

Show me the money:  Spain will receive €47,724 million from the CAP for 2023-2027, an amount for farmers that could exceed €51,000 million with national and regional co-financing. More than €4,800 million will be allocated to direct payments and 1,700 million euros to rural development. The Spanish strategic plan also includes €700 million euros per year for coupled payments to support sectors in difficulty like livestock extensive farms, while funds for dairy cattle and goats will also be increased. Sugar beet, rice or raisin will also receive direct coupled support.

Focus on young and female farmers: Aid for young farmers will also be increased. The plan introduces a 15 % for women entering farming and livestock farming, as well as sectorial interventions worth €62 million, with programmes for fruit and vegetables, wine, beekeeping and, for the first time, extensive olive grove.

Small farmers in the spotlight: The plan also reduces to the number of agronomic regions of the national division for the basic payment to 20. Meanwhile, a new aid will be allocated to support small and medium size farms. There will be a capping of 100,000 euros per farm, witch after discounting labor and social security costs can be increased to €200,000. Digitalisation will be a priority in the Spanish national plan too.

Reactions: Spanish farmers organisations and cooperatives are worried about the greener approach of new CAP and EU policies in general. For instance, they claim that eco-schemes will mean investments for farmers that will make aid less profitable. “A fairer CAP and a fairer strategic plan” is one of the main demands of the alliance of farmers and rural organisations “20Mrural”, promoters of a big national demonstration in Madrid in defence of the Spanish countryside.

Farmers take to the street in protest: Dissatisfaction with the eco-schemes and the new green requirements has seen farmers across the country take to the streets to protest in Spain. Protestors aim to draw attention to their lack of economic viability and the price increase of inputs. Another demonstration is set to be held in Madrid on 20 March.

Background: The Spanish strategic plan is being carried out by the agriculture ministry in coordination with the ecological transition ministry, the autonomous communities, and agricultural and environmental organisations. A first compromise draft of the strategic plan was filed to Spanish autonomous regions by the government back in July. Agriculture minister Luis Planas promised Spanish lawmakers that he will take an ‘inclusive’ strategic plan to Brussels by the end of the year.

Strong opposition: However, some regional farming associations are opposing the ‘Planas’ proposal deemed as ‘insulting’ and a ‘humiliation’. “In Spain, there are very different agronomic models, but we cannot have 17 plans, there is only one for the whole of the country,” replied Planas, adding that it is impossible to satisfy all the proposals coming from each community. He also stressed that the timetable ahead is quite strict if they do not want to jeopardise farmers’ ability to receive CAP aids for next year.

Commission recommendations: Spain should advance significantly on the internal convergence process and distributing direct income support towards homogenous groups of territories. Income gaps among different farm sizes should be addressed by using, for example, the complementary redistributive income support and the reduction of payments, the Commission suggests. Spain is also recommended to put in place sizeable efforts to significantly reduce its use of antimicrobials in agriculture and to improve animal welfare especially for pigs and laying hens.

Observation letter: Sweden has published its observation letter from the European Commission, which you can find here.

Plan submitted: Sweden was among the 18 member states that managed to submit its plan to the Commission by the end of 2021 deadline. You can find a link to the plan here.

Food production, competitiveness: Sweden’s plan prioritises improving the profitability of the agriculture sector, placing a strong focus on food production and competitiveness. They emphasise that milk production is currently the backbone in agricultural production, but it is declining due to higher costs and a weak knowledge chain. To tackle this they want the following measures: direct income support, production-linked cattle payments, compensatory allowances measures to improve skills, collaborative projects, innovation and investments for increased competitiveness.

Sweden has also placed a strong focus on environmental objectives such as carbon sequestration and sustainable production, including grasslands, as well as the need to create more attractive rural areas through measures such as strengthening businesses innovation and stimulating generational change.

Nobody seems happy: A representative from the national farmer’s organisation, Lantbrukarnas Riksförbund (LRF), highlighted that the new CAP means increased demands and a reduced budget up to receive 1,5 billion Swedish kroner less per, according to the association’s calculations. This loss of funding coincides with a time of increased energy costs, amongst other crises. He points to the fact that his organisations’ members are already making changes to help the environment, but that the conditions for this will now become worse. However, the representative was positive about the measures proposed to help young farmers.

Meanwhile, WFF Sweden have called the plan a disappointment for the environment and climate. They are in general unhappy with the overall CAP agreement, but say that the Swedish government has missed out on chances to truly improve biodiversity, increase the cultivation of protein crops and carbon-storing grass-types amongst other things. Similarly, Naturskyddsföreningen (The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation) was also disappointed with the Swedish plan, saying that “instead of clearly strengthening the farmers who contribute to a great environmental benefit, the government chooses to continue with a policy that does not benefit climate or biodiversity.”

Commission recommendations: Sweden has to address the weak increase in total factor productivity and the decline of agricultural income and production, in particular in the livestock sectors, by providing appropriate investment support. At the same time, it has to maintain and boost the added value captured by the farmers along the food chain, focussing the support on research, innovation, knowledge, and strengthening the framework for farmers’ cooperation.

A core aim of the European Commission is to delegate more responsibility to member states in planning CAP investments and policies.

This means that member states will now be directly responsible for CAP – its design, implementation and evaluation – allowing for a more flexible and targeted approach to the CAP.

Through these plans, countries will set out how they intend to meet the 9 EU-wide objectives using CAP instruments while responding to the specific needs of their farmers and rural communities.

In this way, the Commission aims to simplify and modernise the CAP, shifting the emphasis from compliance and rules towards results and performance.

The process of developing a strategic plan begins with two steps.

First, a SWOT analysis (an evaluation of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) must be prepared based on an assessment and prioritisation of needs. These involve feedback from stakeholders through various mechanisms.

Second, an ex-ante evaluator must be chosen who is required to appraise the assessment of needs, including the procedures used to involve stakeholders.

Member states are currently undergoing this process, and are set to forward draft strategic plans to Brussels by the end of 2021. These plans are then due to be presented during 2022 and will, in principle, be implemented from 2023 onwards.

See here for a Commission presentation about how member states will go about drafting their plans.

More background

The EU’s common agricultural policy, or ‘CAP’ as it’s known, aims to support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, ensuring a stable supply of affordable food and that the EU’s farmers are able to make a reasonable living while also safeguarding the environment.

After years of discussions, lawmakers gave their green light to the reform of the CAP during a plenary session in Strasbourg on Tuesday (23 November). The reform passed with a wide majority, despite mounting calls from campaigners to scrap the CAP.

The CAP has undergone a series of transformations over the years to meet changing economic circumstances and citizens’ requirements and needs, which have put the CAP under pressure to provide answers to an increasing number of challenges, including climate change, biodiversity loss and soil degradation.

These proposals aim to make the CAP more responsive to these current and future challenges while continuing to support European farmers for a sustainable and competitive agricultural sector.

The future CAP revolves around nine specific objectives reflecting its economic, environmental and socio-territorial multifunctionality. These include:

  • supporting viable farm income and resilience across the Union to enhance food security
  • enhancing market orientation and increasing competitiveness, including a greater focus on research, technology and digitalisation
  • improving the farmers’ position in the value chain
  • contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as sustainable energy
  • fostering sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air
  • contributing to the protection of biodiversity, enhancing ecosystem services and preserve habitats and landscapes
  • attracting young farmers and facilitate business development in rural areas
  • promoting employment, growth, social inclusion and local development in rural areas, including bio-economy and sustainable forestry
  • improving the response of EU agriculture to societal demands on food and health, including safe, nutritious and sustainable food, food waste, as well as animal welfare

The CAP achieves this via:

  • Income support through direct payments. This is designed to ensure income stability and remunerate farmers for environmentally friendly farming and delivering public goods not normally paid for by the markets, such as taking care of the countryside
  • Market measures to deal with difficult market situations such as a sudden drop in demand due to a health scare, or a fall in prices as a result of a temporary oversupply on the market
  • Rural development measures with national and regional programmes to address the specific needs and challenges facing rural areas

The CAP is organised into two pillars.

Pillar 1 addresses farm income support and market management and is completely financed through the EU budget by the European agricultural guarantee fund.

Pillar 2 addresses rural development including agri-environment-climate measures and is co-financed jointly by the EU budget through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and by member states. 

See here to learn more about common concerns related to the CAP.

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Measure co-financed by the European Union

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