EU farmers tread carefully on Green Deal, as balance with CAP is not easy stuff

The European farming sector is expected to play a major role within the European Green Deal. [BACH/SHUTTERSTOCK]

This article is part of our special report Sustainable food systems in the Farm to Fork strategy.

Policymakers are being called to take up the challenge of finding a place for bloc’s farm aid provided under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the ambitious new environmental flagship policy of the European Commission.

The new von der Leyen Commission wants to set out the way forward regarding the climate neutrality objectives by 2050 through the European Green Deal, whose first initiatives will be tabled this spring.

The European farming sector is expected to play a major role in this wider project and the announced Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) will be devoted specifically not only to make agriculture practices more sustainable but also to outline a new integrated food policy that involves the other side of the supply chain.

According to the Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, coordinator for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) at the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (AGRI), the concept of sustainability has now become absolutely essential in farming.

“Nowadays, if a high-value product does not have some sustainable aspects, it cannot be considered as such,” he told, adding that since the farming sector has an interest in producing high-value products, there is this demand for sustainability even there.

Last November, the European Parliament plenary also adopted a non-binding resolution declaring climate emergency, pressuring the Commission and the member states on delivering a sufficiently ambitious Green Deal.

“I fully share the concerns of the MEPs and agriculture needs to contribute to the EU climate objectives towards 2050 and should be part of the solution,” Croatia’s Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković told EURACTIV in a recent interview.

“At the same time let’s not forget the key role of European farmers to provide food security. We need a balanced approach,” she added

Croatian farm minister: Getting transitional CAP done by mid-2020 on presidency's radar

The Croatian EU presidency will focus its efforts on securing an agreement among member states on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)’s transitional regulations that will extend the current rules for at least a year, Croatia’s Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković told EURACTIV in an interview.

CAP and the Green Deal

Agriculture ministers have repeatedly expressed the view that future CAP subsidies could be used for making steps towards carbon neutrality, including by incentivising farmers to take up so-called ‘green’ production methods.

The topic was discussed at the EU Agrifish Council on 27 January, as the EU executive started an analysis on whether its CAP reform proposal, which dates back to 2018, is aligned with the ambition presented in the Green Deal.

“Let me be clear, this is not about amending the proposal,” Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told ministers. “It is to understand how to position ourselves in the negotiations to ensure that our ambition is achieved,” he added.

The EU’s farm chief also pointed out that the CAP reform must address sustainability as a whole, including its economic and social dimensions, while an adequate budget to support farmers delivering more sustainable farming systems should be ensured.

In her interview with EURACTIV, Vučković also recognised the need to ensure that national strategic plans for agriculture reflect the ambition of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy, although all the details will be examined during the inter-institutional negotiations.

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Not from scratch

Compulsory greening measures are not new, as they were introduced in the 2013 CAP reform, accounting for 30% of the direct payments budget.

The European Commission has proposed to increase the proportion of the next CAP expenditure dedicated to climate action to 40%, the same percentage contained in the negotiating box of the Finnish presidency.

For Commissioner Wojciechowski, the CAP proposal already contains many elements that can enable the sector to meet the ambitions of the Green Deal, such as the focus on results of the strategic plans, the eco-schemes in the first pillar and the improvements in the conditionality system.

“Sometimes people act like we’re starting from scratch, but where the CAP was implemented in the right way, we already have a commitment toward the environmental protection trough the eco-schemes for instance,” MEP Dorfmann said.

On the same page is the boss of farmers association Copa-Cogeca Pekka Pesonen, who said that there is a common denominator in all the recent CAP reforms: “No matter what is done, the common perception is that nothing has been done before,” he told EURACTIV.

“Even when we had the first ‘greening’, some said that we had to do something dramatic and this, from the farmers’ perspective, means adding another layer requirements for less money,” he added.

The environment in the new CAP

Greens have strongly criticised the European Commission for what they say is a lack of concern for the environment in its proposals for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy.

Caution needed

However, farmers have adopted a cautious approach on the F2F since the Commission’s communication of the Green Deal was released last December.

Contacted by EURACTIV, Copa-Cogeca’s Pesonen said that his organisation wouldn’t  say anything specific on the F2F as there are still big question marks related to procedural concerns and clarity.

“How to incorporate the F2F in the CAP is not very clear at this stage, as well it’s not very obvious how this would work in concrete terms,” he said.

For Pesonen, it still unclear whether the European Commission can come up with a proposal that actually would enable farmers and the value chain to deliver what they promised in terms of sustainability and consumer added value.

Cooperation with the other side of the food supply chain remains, however, crucial to delivering the climate agenda. “We work as part of the food chain and value chain with all other partners. We need all our partners upstream as much as downstream, all the way to the consumers,” he concluded.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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