Agrifood Brief: CAP 2.0 or same old C*AP?

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The UK’s departure from the EU now means that it is free to design its own menu of agricultural policies, à la carte, to replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

So naturally, like nosy curtain-twitching neighbours, we’re all wondering what is going on over the other side of the Channel.

Well, the UK is pitching their new agricultural subsidy as a greener, keener, cleaner CAP 2.0.

“The concept behind the approach that we are taking now to future policy is fundamentally different to that which we inherited from the EU,” UK Environment Secretary George Eustice gleefully proclaimed in a recent speech during the annual Oxford farming conference at the start of this year. 

Is it though? Let’s dig in. 

The main objective of the UK is to shift from direct payments (Pillar I, in CAP jargon) to focus on the principle of “‘public money for public goods”, aka paying farmers and land managers for delivering on environmental benefits rather than the amount of land they farm (aka, the CAP’s rural development funding).

This is because the UK government considers direct payments to be a poor use of public money.

“What’s become increasingly apparent in recent years is that a subsidy on land ownership or land tenure can be every bit as distorting as an old-style production subsidy,” Eustice said.

(FYI, in 2018, UK farmers received around £3.5 billion per year in CAP payments, 80% of which came from direct payments). 

This has “inflated land rents, it’s caused people to hold onto land just to collect the payment when they might otherwise rent that land out,” he said. 

The idea, then, is a complete shift from area-based subsidies to full environmental conditionality, achieved via the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).

This comprises three elements – the Sustainable Farming Incentive, a local Nature Recovery Programme, and a landscape Recovery Scheme – which, together, aim to transform the UK’s subsidy programme.

The new regime will be introduced gradually over a seven-year ‘agricultural transition period’ from 2021–2028. 

So how does this compare with the CAP? Is this approach a different kettle of fish? Or are these plans actually two peas in a pod?

According to Eustice, whereas the EU regime was “very much a single subsidy based on land ownership and land tenure, and then a single complex book of rules that everybody needed to follow,” the UK’s new approach will be “phase out those subsidies [and] dispense with that old-style, rigid, top-down rulebook”.

But it’s worth pointing out that, contrary to Eustice’s claims, the core of this CAP reform is actually to shift responsibility from Brussels to member states.

The main vehicle for this are the national strategic plans, through which EU countries detail how they will meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the reformed CAP while responding to the needs of farmers and rural communities.

In other words: While the European Commission will be setting out the general direction of the future CAP, the “how” will be up to national administrations this time (so if anything, one single book of rules now becomes 27 books of rules). 

Essentially, the ball is more in member states’ court than it has ever been before.

Granted, it’s true that the EU has no plans to do away with direct payments any time soon (as Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told us in an interview back in May: “Without support, we will not have farmers in the EU. This is no choice, we need to support our farmers.”), which still make up the lion’s share of the CAP budget. 

But it is disingenuous to say CAP funding is solely based on land ownership. 

As a reminder, a fair whack of the €387 billion budget (€95.5 billion, to be precise) is also earmarked as support for rural development, a higher percentage of which is devoted to climate and sustainability measures, and which is also bolstered by €8 billion from the NextGenerationEU Fund.

Meanwhile, the UK’s not the only one to have shiny new sustainable farming schemes – the CAP also has eco-schemes, for which 25% of direct payments will be allocated.

Focusing on a common list of action areas defined at the EU level, member states can choose to support practices such as organic farming, agro-ecological practices, precision farming, agro-forestry or carbon farming, as well as animal welfare improvements.

So the promised agricultural revolution, or the same old C*AP?

As is most often the case, the truth lies in a grey zone somewhere in between. But it’s true that the two sides of the Channel might well be sharing more common ground than they think.

(N.F.)

Podcast

Denormandie's 'climate soldiers', reciprocity, new agri vice chair

This week, EURACTIV France’s Magdalena Pistorius joins EURACTIV’s agrifood team to explain how French agricultural minister Julien Denormandie’s debut speech under the French presidency was received in the European Parliament.

This week, EURACTIV France’s Magdalena Pistorius joins EURACTIV’s agrifood team to explain how French agricultural minister Julien Denormandie’s debut speech under the French presidency was received in the European Parliament, we explore some of his main priorities in more depth, including carbon farming and trade reciprocity, and we speak to the newly elected Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, Benoît Biteau, about his ambitions for the role and the importance of strengthening collaboration between the ENVI and AGRI committees.

Agrifood stories this week

French agri minister manoeuvres review of pesticide residues onto EU agenda
The French agriculture minister’s ambitions to link the upcoming pesticides directive review with completely separate legislation on maximum residue limits has confused stakeholders, some of who see it as a covert way to overhaul the current framework on pesticide tolerances. Natasha Foote has the story.

MEPs ‘far away’ from an agreement on merging forest and agriculture sectors under LULUCF
EU lawmakers working on revising the land use, land-use change and forestry regulation (LULUCF) are split over the European Commission’s idea to merge the sector with the agricultural industry in the 2030s. EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna and Kira Taylor have more.

Reducing pesticide use requires ‘coordinated effort’, says French minister
Finding alternatives to plant protection products requires a “coordinated effort” from all EU member states, said French minister for ecological transition Barbara Pompili, who presided over the talks with EU agriculture ministers in Amiens from 20-22 January. EURACTIV France reports.

Germany favours ‘pragmatic’ approach to animal welfare labelling
Germany’s agriculture ministry wants to approach the implementation of a national animal husbandry label “step by step”, while also pushing an origin label at the EU level. EURACTIV Germany reports.

European Parliament calls for better animal protection during transport
The European Parliament has adopted recommendations for tougher and more effective animal protection rules during live transports. Some MEPs, however, bemoan a lack of ambition and call for a hard limit on the duration of journeys. Julia Dahm has the details.

News from the bubble

MEPs urge help for ailing pig sector: In a letter addressed on Friday (28 January) to the Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski, the chair of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee Norbert Lins and the majority of political groups in the committee called on the European Commission to adopt “immediate initiatives aimed to alleviate the negative situation and anticipate serious disturbances in the pig meat sector”. The call is not the first from the committee, who debated the issue back on 10 January. On Twitter, the Commissioner thanked MEPs, saying he was looking forward to meeting with Lins on the matter next week.

No helping hand for the pig sector: However, the Commission already released a response to requests from member states for the use of market measures to support the pig sector outlining why it remains reluctant to step in on the issue. “Granting a lump-sum of liquidity aid to the sector could be counterproductive and raise questions about its nature and scope,” the report reads. For more background on the issue, check out this EURACTIV article

New vet rules: As of Friday (28 January), the EU Regulations on Veterinary Medicines and Medicated Feed are due for application in the 27 EU member states. Widely promoted by the European Commission as a key tool to address the challenge of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the new rules aim to support innovation, reduce administrative burden for the animal health sector and with that improve availability of veterinary medicines across Europe. While many stakeholders welcomed its introduction, others were more critical. “The new veterinary medicines legislation falls short of its promises,” Access VetMed, the voice of the European industry of generic and added-value veterinary medicines, said in a statement

Pesticide ban: German minister Cem Oezdemir has promised to back the Commission’s proposal for a ban on the use of the insecticide Sulfoxaflor outdoors, saying that bees and other pollinators must be protected.

EFSA guidelines: The European Food Safety Agency’s nutrition experts are currently in the process of testing draft guidance on new assessments for establishing tolerable upper intakes levels for nine vitamins and minerals. See here for more information. 

CAP corner

New website: The Commission has launched a new website dedicated to CAP strategic plans updates, a move which has been lauded by stakeholders who have been campaigning for more transparency in the process. For more on the plans, check out EURACTIV’s tracker

Drop me a line: EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has appealed for people to get in touch on matters related to agriculture, including opinions on the CAP national strategic plans. You can let him know your thoughts via the email address: CAB-WOJCIECHOWSKI-CONTACT@ec.europa.eu

Agrifood news from the CAPitals 

Finland
Finland gears up for a wolf culling. Finland’s plans to kill 20 wolves to manage the population are due to go into effect on 1 February. The plans, which were decided by the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry back in December, have proved controversial, prompting MEPs from the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals to send a letter to Finnish Minister Jari Leppä calling for withdrawal of the proposal. For more background on the issue of wolves in the EU, check out this EURACTIV article

Slovakia
Slovak government mulls cutting VAT on food. Rising prices have become a hot topic in Slovakia in recent days after neighbouring Poland to cut VAT on food to zero. In response, a member of the coalition party ‘We Are Family’, Jaroslav Karahuta, has proposed that Slovakia reduce VAT on food-products to 5%. “I am surprised that no one in our country has yet responded to the actions of our neighbours. We can’t just stand idly by,” he said, adding that, otherwise, massive cross-border food tourism would begin. However, finance minister Igor Matovic (OĽaNO) warned the proposal would create a €200 million hole in the annual state budget. “We also want to hear from MP Karahuta whether he wants to take this money from medical staff, teachers or children in kindergartens,” he said. Farmers, too, are opposed to the proposal. The largest agricultural organisation, SPPK, claims that reducing VAT will not help people but supermarket chains. “The effect of the VAT reduction on food will be significantly lower for the consumer than presented in the media and can only be considered as a political agenda,“ SPPK stated in a press release. Food prices in Slovakia have risen by an average of almost 6% year on year. (Marián Koreň | EURACTIV.sk)

Croatia
Croatian veal exporters given access to Japanese market. Croatia’s ministry of agriculture, in cooperation with Croatian producers, has ensured the access of Croatian-produced veal to the Japanese market, the ministry announced on Monday, January 24. The decision reflects improvements on the eradication and control of major infectious diseases in animals. These efforts enable Croatia to get recognition from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Having access to the demanding Japanese market is also a “great reference” for Croatian products on other foreign markets, the ministry said. It added that it would continue to make efforts, on its own and in cooperation with the European Commission, to get other markets open to Croatian products. In 2021, Croatian fishery and other animal products gained access to the Israeli market. The country was also given the green light for exporting milk and dairy products to Libya and ice cream to Costa Rica, among other things. (Željko Trkanjec, Euractiv.hr)

Germany
German parliament puts a spotlight on nutrition. The parties of the country’s “traffic light” coalition want to make “sustainable and healthy nutrition” a focus of their work, according to a motion put forth by the three parliamentary factions on Thursday (27 January). Among other things, the parties want to ban advertisements targeted at children under 14 for products rich in sugar, fat, or salt. The paper also foresees strengthening abuse control and competition rules in the food sector in order to ensure fair producer prices. “People want to have healthy, sustainable, regionally produced food on their plates”, the Social Democrats’ food policy spokeswoman, Isabel Mackensen said, adding that agriculture and nutrition should be “thought of jointly”. During his inaugural speech, agri minister Cem Özdemir had also vowed to launch a nutrition strategy. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.DE)

Austria
Austria invests in its drinking water supply. The country’s parliament adopted a € 480 million spending package to help fund regional water infrastructure, including communal water supply and sewage disposal systems. “Clean water is our most valuable resource, but we cannot take it for granted”, agri minister Elisabeth Köstinger said, adding that the country had been “doing a lot” to ensure this for decades. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.DE)

France
Indicating the origin of meat becomes compulsory in French canteens and restaurants. From 1 March, all restaurants serving pork, poultry, lamb and mutton meat will have to indicate the products’ origin, according to a decree published in the Official Journal on Thursday (27 January). Canteens and restaurants will have to inform consumers about the country of origin of the meat, as well as the country where the animals were reared. For beef, the indication of origin has already been mandatory since 2002. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.FR)

UK
UK partnership launched to tackle agricultural challenges. The UK Government has launched the UK Agriculture Partnership (UKAP), a new forum which, according to a statement on the government’s website, is intended to bring together stakeholders from across the UK to identify and improve collaborative working on shared issues facing the agricultural sector. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

Ireland
Public consultation opens on Ireland’s National ‘Food Waste Prevention Roadmap’. The roadmap, published on Thursday (27 January), sets out a series of actions which aim to halve Ireland’s food waste by 2030. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

Spain
Record shipments of South African oranges take their toll on the Spanish citrus sector. Spanish citrus growers have received poor prices for their oranges after being undercut by a record number of imports from South Africa into the EU in the last quarter of 2021. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more. (EFE)

Greece
Greece and Commission talk overfishing. In a teleconference on Friday (21 January), Greek deputy minister of rural development and food, Simos Kedikoglou, and maritime affairs Commission official Stelios Mitolidis, met to discuss the “blue economy”. In this context, Kedikoglou highlighted the need to tackle overfishing as well as the protection of fish stocks, and stressed the need to protect fish breeding sites. In addition, the minister informed Mitolidis about the “Amorgorama” programme, which aims to prevent local fishermen from fishing during the spawning season and to involve their fleet in coastal sea clean-ups. Mitolidis, meanwhile, presented the new Operational Programme for Fisheries and Sea (OPFS), which aims to make the fisheries sector competitive by limiting fishing activities and reducing the pressure on fish stocks. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

Events

31 January | Sustainable carbon cycles conference

31 January-1 February | Implementing the rural vision

1 February | OPTA Political Dialogue, ft. Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski

1-2 February | Online info day on the 2022 AGRI promotion calls for proposals

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