The Czech farmers group APF CR has left the EU agricultural organisation COPA, accusing it of showing a “contemptuous approach” and lacking support for small farmers, an accusation refuted by other Czech farmers’ groups.
The Association of Private Farming of the Czech Republic (APF CR), which has been a member of COPA for 16 years, announced its departure on Friday (23 April).
The association cited the EU farmers group’s position on the capping of direct payments from the EU’s farming subsidy programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as a main reason for leaving.
While the APF CR has called for its mandatory capping of payments at the national level, COPA has “refused to discuss the need to redirect subsidies at first at European level,” according to a written statement from the association.
“These attitudes were adopted almost automatically by COPA without wider consideration and deeper discussion,” the association’s president, Jaroslav Šebek, wrote in a statement.
“The APF CR has repeatedly warned that unless a limitation of direct payments is introduced as a mandatory parameter throughout the EU, some countries whose governments do not want to apply this measure will continue to direct a substantial part of their subsidies to the largest agribusinesses without any limitation,“ he said, warning that if the current COPA positions are maintained, the “classic family farmers will lose the most in the end”.
The average farm size in Czechia is the largest in the EU, with large companies managing two-thirds of all agricultural land and 76% of livestock farming.
The capping of subsidies remains a contentious issue. During CAP reform negotiations, the Czech Agricultural Ministry repeatedly opposed the idea of mandatory subsidies capping due to the potential negative impact on large Czech farms.
APF CR, which represents Czech small and family businesses, argues that large agricultural companies use intensive farming methods, damage biodiversity and contribute to soil degradation.
“The final straw was a letter sent to the Czech Republic in July of the last year addressed to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, in which COPA openly lobbied the Czech government to reject the capping of payments and thus basically supported the maintenance of the current model of agricultural subsidy distribution,” the association said.
According to the association, its “repeated requests” for an explanation from COPA have gone unheeded.
“The inconsistent and passive approach of COPA, together with its false statements, contributed to the fact that APF CR preferred to terminate its long-standing membership in this organisation,” it added.
Reacting to the news on twitter, EU Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he “regretted” the news.
“I value the APF CR position in favour of small, medium and traditional family farms,” he said.
However, the claims made by the APF CR were refuted by other Czech members of the EU farmers group, which told EURACTIV that the association had had ample opportunity to participate in COPA’s democratic decision making process, but had opted not to.
“We have been discussing COPA’s position on this for more than one year, and the APF CR was not present at the meetings,” said Martin Pýcha, president of the agricultural association of the Czech Republic.
The association had refused to discuss with other members which held differing views, he added.
Jan Dolezal, President of the Czech agrarian chamber, concurred, stressing that APF CR representatives were “passive” in meetings and very rarely made their presence known in debates.
“They were not there either when COPA’s position [on the capping of payments] was formed or when it was voted,” he said.
He accused the association of playing politics and attempting to bring domestic issues to the “EU theatre” and be seen as a strong negotiator in the eyes of farmers.
Both Pýcha and Dolezal said that the APF CR’s assertion that it represented 80% of domestic agricultural entities was a gross overestimation and highlighted that both of their organisations also represent a number of small farmers.
APF CR had previously claimed that, following the termination of its membership, COPA no longer officially represents the majority of Czech farmers at European level.
However, Dolezal pointed out that the situation is “more complicated” than that, while Pýcha said that the APF CR does not represent the majority of Czech farmers.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]