Farmers say CAP simplification and digitisation will attract investment

The member states should come up with their own national plans to address their various challenges. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Post-2020 CAP: simplification and investments.

A revamped European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with less paperwork and more long-term policy perspective focused on digitisation will attract more investment and more young people to the sector, EU farmers argue.

“Simplification is appealing to investors,” said Pekka Pesonen, the Secretary-General of Copa-Cogeca, the European organisation of European farmers and agri-cooperatives.

EU farmers say new generations will return to agricultural fields because they don’t rely only on direct payments. On the contrary, they want to take EU farming forward by involving other business activities, with stronger links to the more creative second rural development pillar.

“If you expect to have young farmers coming to the sector, none of them will do so because of the direct support alone,” Pesonent told EURACTIV.

“They are motivated to produce high-quality food, respond to the consumer needs, do it in a sustainable manner and, if the conditions permit, they also incorporate new elements like agritourism, water management, something that is not directly linked to the agricultural sector,” he added.

The European Commission and the member states are currently discussing the post-2020 CAP based on a communication, which suggests further simplification by granting EU countries “more room” to address their specific conditions.

Member are therefore expected come up with their own national plans to address their farming challenges.

CAP’s simplification should ensure EU internal market cohesion

Last year’s public debate about the European Commission’s drive to streamline the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) made clear that the EU’s flagship subsidy project is too bureaucratic and complex to be truly effective.

Pesonen explained that if there was one thing shared by most farmers across the EU, it’s that they are fed up with red tape.

The Commission has made a number of efforts in the past years to simplify the greening measures, which farmers had found too complicated although, as Pesonen said, “most of the farmers do not disagree with the objectives of greening”.

In a public consultation last year, farmers noted there was much more they could do when it comes to greening. But the way it was organised was too bureaucratic and farmers spent more time on “paper-pushing” efforts than on implementation of the measures on their farms, Pesonen said.

EU farmers say the member states should make “reasonable” and less bureaucratic strategic plans but at the same time stress that CAP’s commonality should be protected.

“The point is, while we give subsidiarity to the member states and we accept that, how can we ensure the commonality?  We need to come up with a set of EU-level principles about farming practices,” Pesonen emphasised.

A similar opinion is shared by IFOAM, the international organisation of organic farmers, who says flexibility and simplification should not come at the expense of a common EU framework.

“The CAP must remain a European policy that sets common objectives for the benefit of farmers, rural communities, consumers and the environment,” said IFOAM EU.

Referring to Brexit and its negative impact on the EU’s next long-term budget, Pesonen said cuts to farming funds were “absolutely out of the question”.

“If these savings are still on the table, we would not accept any kind of additional restrictive measures for farmers in terms of performance because this could be detrimental for the income.”

Digitisation and CAP

Luc Vernet, an expert from the think-tank Farm Europe, explained that in today’s volatile markets EU farmers needed more certainty.

“The future CAP needs to have a focus on resilience, risk management on the one side and crisis management on the other side. This needs a coherent toolbox in place at the EU level.”

Referring to the introduction of new technologies in the farming sector, Vernet stressed that in this transition period EU farmers should be given more time to adjust.

“Technologies in the farming sector are moving really fast. We have new plant breeding techniques in technology, we have data from precision farming. The CAP should not focus on the past but on the future. It should help farmers in this transition,” he said.

But in order for farmers to take the “digital leap”, they need to be granted the proper tools to face the risks.

“If we want them to go ahead, we need to help them and provide security for some years. This will secure their risk for some years and we need a transition scheme for precision agriculture as we have it for organic farming today,” Vernet said.

As for the investments, the EU should come up with a specific CAP investment targeting economic and environmental performance investments.

“It’s clear that in the future it will be much easier to have digitation approach and simplify all the procedures. This is why it’s not the right time today to reduce the common policy because more than ever before, we have the tool to make an EU policy simple – the digital tool,” Vernet said.

Define the objectives clearly

Geneviève Savigny, a campaigner with the European Coordination Via Campesina NGO (ECVC), told EURACTIV that more simplification at EU level could mean more complexity at the national and local level, considering the difficulties in implementing the current CAP.

ECVC is pushing for a CAP which is simple above all for farmers and calls for more market measures to ensure stable and remunerative prices, completed by direct payments in areas with natural or socioeconomic constraints.

Referring to the new delivery system and the national plans, Savigny explained that the pursued objectives should be clearly defined and accompanied by a timetable.

She said the Commission’s proposal to ‘foster a smart and resilient agriculture sector’ is very broad and conducive to different interpretations.

“The underlying model is clearly an agro-industrial model geared towards export and the constant competitiveness.”

“How can we be assured that such strategic plans can be designed in European countries where democracy is shrinking every day, or that it would be accepted by a Commission geared by trade and competition?” she asked.

She also pointed out that all relevant stakeholders, from the small and medium farmers, to consumers, NGOs and local authorities, should be involved in the definition of the strategic plan in a “fully inclusive process”.

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