This article is part of our special report The environment in the new CAP.
Although all EU ministers agree on higher climate objectives in the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), they still do not know how to put this environmental ambition into practice.
The green architecture of next CAP was at the core of the debate at the first meeting of EU agriculture ministers under Finland’s EU presidency, which took place this week in Brussels (15 July).
Member states’ representatives do not appear to be making much progress since last April’s Agrifish Council, where they already had a similar exchange of views on climate-related aspects of the CAP reform package.
The concept of green architecture contained in the CAP strategic plans proposal is still a divisive issue among member states and, in particular, the enhanced conditionality and the additional environmental actions provided through the so-called eco-scheme.
Member states have not found yet an agreement on the green requirements and standards farmers must fulfil in order to receive direct payments, which constitute the broader concept of the aid ‘conditionality’.
In addition, the eco-scheme concept divides EU member states. The eco-scheme interventions represent the main new feature of the proposed CAP first pillar, replacing the green direct payments introduced in the past programme.
The source of the dispute on eco-scheme is whether to introduce them as voluntary or mandatory, as the Commission proposed.
“A compulsory eco-scheme is essential if we want the reform to take place,” French Agriculture minister Didier Guillaume told his EU peers, calling for a “simple tool” focusing on annual basis incentives for as many farmers as possible willing to adopt environmentally friendly practices.
This crucial new incentive system requires a CAP budget adequate to its environmental ambition. “Our farmers are ensuring the agro-environmental transition and they’re doing a lot to change agricultural practices, but they have the feeling they get nothing in return,” said Guillaume.
Germany and Spain also support the French line, which was however contested by the Italian government.
“We believe that the simplification of the overall CAP system is the priority and that a mandatory nature of eco-scheme would be without environmental effectiveness,” said Italy’s Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio.
For Greece, it would be preferable to have the optional implementation of the measures, taking into account the specificities of each member states, while the Czech Republic proposed to opt for a more flexible approach of an eco-scheme that has sufficiently balanced elements.
Miroslav Toman, Czech minister of agriculture, also stressed the importance to have right parameters in place during the transitional phase, in order to ensure continuity when it comes to multiannual commitments.
Italy is leading the front of member states that want to exclude small farmers from the enhanced conditionality, as a way to incentivise agriculture activities in rural and deprived areas.
“Small farmers are already subjected to sectoral controls in receiving direct payments, so why to make it more complicated?” Polish Minister Jan Krysztof Ardanowski said in support of Italy’s line.
The Finnish presidency is more cautious compared to the Romanian EU Presidency on the chances to reach a common position, suggesting that their real objective is to make as much progress as possible in the CAP negotiations.
“We intend to come up with at least an updated version of the regulation texts and, if possible, we will seek to have a Council general approach,” said Jari Leppä, Finnish minister for agriculture and forestry.
As president of the rotating Agriculture Council, he also recognised how crucial an agreement on the EU’s long-term budget would also be for the CAP discussions.
“There are still many uncertainties on the MFF negotiations and therefore we prefer not to commit to any precise results,” Leppa said. “But if the multiannual financial framework (MFF) will advance, this will also allow the CAP to move forward,” he added.
All EU countries seem, however, to agree on the need to support a higher environmental ambition within the CAP and maintain the same budget like in the past period in order to allow farmers to put into practice this ambition.
“An ambitious green architecture is a basis for the acceptance of new agricultural policies in the general public and taxpayers,” said German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]