This article is part of our special report All aboard: EU policy train builds up steam after summer.
With the EU’s new food policy launched this spring, policymakers will now turn their attention back to the long-delayed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the staple of the bloc’s farming industry and the biggest item in its budget.
The debate around EU’s main farming subsidies programme has been overlooked in the past few months due to the hype around the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F).
The 27 EU leaders finally agreed on 21 July on the EU’s next seven-year budget, which set the total amount of CAP spending at €336.4 billion, which is roughly €46 billion less than the 2014-2020 programme but €20 billion higher than the farming budget earmarked in the 2018 Commission’s proposal.
This decision will enable both the European Parliament and the Council to kick off negotiations and reach a final deal on the three laws forming the legislative framework of the programme.
MEPs still need to agree on their negotiating position and a final plenary vote is expected in the second half of October.
However, lawmakers in the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI) already clashed with their colleagues in the Environment Committee (ENVI) on the provisions related to the climate objectives in the farming sector.
ENVI coordinators want the plenary compromise amendments on the CAP to be agreed by political groups regardless of which committee they are on. Such a move would weaken the influence of the COMAGRI, which holds the primary competence on the CAP file.
And another battle is brewing once the CAP debate in the Parliament is over.
There are still outstanding issues to settle in the trilogue, the interinstitutional talks between the Parliament and the Council, such as ensuring complementarity between the CAP’s new green architecture and the environmental-climate measures set out in the F2F.
The mandatory or voluntary nature of eco-schemes, an innovative system crucial to deliver environmental goals, is yet to be decided.
Nonetheless, the Parliament and the Council are fighting side by side on another front against a common enemy: the Commission.
As the CAP reform will not be concluded before the start of the 2021-2027 programming period, MEPs and member states “informally developed a common understanding” on interim measures based on the current rules, in order to avoid EU farmers being financially exposed.
But the agreement reached on a two-year temporary scheme before the next EU farming subsidies programme starts was criticised by the EU executive.
The Commission believes that a one-year Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) transition period would fit better in the context of F2F implementation and ‘Next Generation EU’, the Commission’s €750 billion Recovery Fund aimed at reviving and transforming the bloc’s economy.
The Commission does not seem willing to concede on this matter, threatening to withdraw the proposal as a last resort weapon, which MEPs took as a threat to their lawmaking independence.
German presidency priorities
As Germany took over the reins of the rotating EU presidency on 1 July, Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner laid out the German EU presidency’s agrifood priorities, highlighting the CAP negotiations as a key focus, alongside animal welfare labelling, an EU-wide nutritional label and digitalisation to make rural areas “fit for the future”.
Klöckner also put forward the idea of a stronger coupling of direct payments in the CAP with environmental measures, in an attempt to “dovetail” the post-2020 CAP with the Farm to Fork strategy.
Labelling is also high on the German agenda, both for animal welfare and for nutritional information, with Klöckner saying she would push for a standardised animal welfare label across Europe.
“Food policy issues are going to be high on the agenda in the next few months, for example, having extended nutritional labelling to better guide consumers in their purchasing or further measures to reduce food waste,” Klöckner said but added she was currently unsure of the form this label would take.
She also stressed the importance of digitalisation of farming, saying that is “key if we want to have a sustainable, economically profitable, or economically sustainable agriculture”.
Organics regulation postponed?
From 1 January 2021, there is due to be an overhaul of the current organics regulations in an effort to reflect the changing nature of this rapidly growing sector.
The new organic regulation is designed to ensure fair competition for farmers whilst preventing fraud and maintaining consumer trust.
But lawmakers and campaigners are pushing for a one-year postponement of the application of the new organic regulation to 1 January 2022, saying this is needed to ensure a smooth transition and allow organic operators, control bodies and competent authorities to get properly ready.
An EU spokesperson told EURACTIV no decisions have yet been taken regarding the postponement and “reflection is still ongoing”, meaning a final decision is set to be taken in the autumn.
A new “offensive” action plan on organic farming was promised to be implemented in 2020 and will look at how organic production can help the agri-food sector improve its sustainability across the supply chain.
The Commission will launch a public consultation on the plan after the summer break.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]