EU farm ministers clinched an early-morning deal on the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), touted as ‘a paradigm shift in European food policy’, on Wednesday (21 October).
At the same time, the European Parliament’s first voting session on the same matter saw a compromise between the three biggest political groups, supporting a proposal that, according to the Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, is more ambitious that the one agreed by ministers and so setting the stage for tough talks with the member states.
After a two-year stalemate, the reform of the EU’s main farming subsidies programme now seems to be in full gear as in Luxembourg ministers agreed on a common position to start negotiations with the European Parliament.
MEPs are also expected to get their required negotiating mandate approved at the end of the week. They already started voting on Tuesday (20 October) on more than 1,700 amendments to the CAP reform.
Interinstitutional negotiations on the Commission’s legislative initiative to reform the CAP will start once both negotiators on the CAP file – Parliament’s rapporteurs plus a minister of the rotating EU presidency representing the EU27 – receive the mandate from the institution they represent to negotiate on their behalf.
The Council meeting was deemed as the “most important in a decade” by German agriculture minister Julia Klöckner, who chairs agricultural issues during Germany’s EU presidency.
Although not expected on the eve of the meeting, the final deal was strongly supported by the German presidency, as there was no certainty about having another in-person meeting with ministers in November due to the second wave of the pandemic.
To convince other ministers to adopt the final compromise package, the Germans had to overcome the last resistance on eco-schemes, an innovative system conceived to deliver the environmental goals in the CAP.
Klöckner acknowledged that they had ultimately reached an agreement “after a lot of work and a certain struggle.” “But we have reached a real milestone, a paradigm shift in European food policy,” she added.
At a press conference held immediately after the agreement was reached around 4 am, the German minister confirmed that mandatory eco-schemes have been introduced, as well as a minimum budget for them.
“[Eco-schemes are] not left to the free choice of member states which can decide whether or not to apply them and how many resources to allocate,” she said.
A first compromise package proposed by the German presidency and seen by EURACTIV envisaged eco-schemes that were mandatory for member states but voluntary for farmers, but technical details on what ministers agreed in the night are still missing at this stage.
According to Klöckner, ministers agreed on a bridging solution with a ‘two-year’ learning phase in which member states will try to exhaust all the funds available, in response to fears in some countries that eco-schemes would be impossible to implement, which would result in the loss of EU funds for farmers.
In order to overcome the resistance of Italy, ministers also agreed on more flexibility between the CAP’s two pillars – direct payments and rural developments – and in particular, the environmental expenditure in the rural development programme can be counted in the first pillar.
Meanwhile, in Brussels…
A few hours before, MEPs started the long voting process that will ultimately end up with the approval of the Parliament’s negotiating position and kick-off talks with ministers.
An agreement among the three largest parties in the European Parliament, the Christian-Democrats (EPP), socialists (S&D) and liberals (Renew Europe), had been struck before the voting sessions to ensure that a set of compromise amendments would pass.
Despite some last-minute defections, the majority agreement held steadfast, as all the compromise amendments proposed by the three biggest political groups were voted through.
The only amendment rejected was the one intended to reject the Commission’s entire proposal, supported by the Greens and leftists.
In the approved compromise amendments, the European lawmakers agreed on providing an area of at least 10% of landscape elements beneficial for biodiversity, as well as on earmarking 35% of the rural development budget for environmental and climate-related measures and at least 30% of direct payments budget for eco-schemes.
Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski welcomed the deal reached by ministers but stressed that the Parliament’s position is much more ambitious than the one discussed in the Council.
However, the news that all compromise amendments were voted through was met with dismay by NGOs and environmental campaigners, who were fighting tooth and nail to scrap the whole CAP reform proposal or at least the majority of the compromise amendments.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also stepped in complaining about the lack of attention given to CAP reform which, according to her, is completely ignoring climate and biodiversity.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]