It’s crunch time for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with lawmakers in the European Parliament set to give their green light to the reform of the EU’s farming policy once and for all on Tuesday (23 November). So, what should you know ahead of the vote? EURACTIV has you covered.
1. What’s all the fuss about?
After years of discussions, lawmakers are finally set to endorse the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy on Tuesday, during a plenary session in Strasbourg.
The reform, proposed by the European Commission in 2018, was informally wrapped up in June, adopted by the Council of EU agri-food ministers three days later and provisionally approved by the European Parliament’s AGRI Committee in September.
This CAP aims to have a more flexible, performance- and results-based approach that takes into account local conditions and needs while increasing the level of EU ambitions in terms of sustainability.
After a number of delays, it is now on track to enter into force on 1 January 2023, running until 2027.
So, why should you care about this CAP reform?
Well, the CAP makes up a whopping one-third of the EU budget, and it is the main vehicle by which the agricultural sector is to achieve the EU’s green goals.
And, on the backdrop of increasing environmental crises, from soil degradation to biodiversity loss to climate change, the pressure is on for this CAP reform to be bigger and better – and greener – than ever before.
2. Why the controversy?
The biggest bone of contention throughout the (long) road to signing and sealing this CAP reform is its alignment with the Green Deal.
The problem is that this CAP reform – originally put together in 2018 – came before the Commission’s Green Deal, unveiled in 2020.
This means lawmakers have since had the unenviable task of trying to retrofit a round peg in a square hole.
While some believe the compromise reached on the deal adequately manages to bridge the gap between the EU’s green ambitions and the farming policy, campaigners say otherwise, calling for this CAP to be scrapped and started again from scratch, stressing this is needed to go beyond the status quo.
Other contentious issues include the way in which the money is divvied out (known as ‘convergence’) and the way the crisis fund is coupled with the CAP budget.
3. What’s new about this CAP reform?
Eco-schemes are at the heart of that greening strategy: from 2023 onwards, 22% of all direct payments of the CAP’s first pillar are to be conditioned to environmentally friendly practices in order to incite farmers to step up their ambition and engage in an agroecological transition to combat climate change and preserve biodiversity. In 2025, the threshold is to be lifted to 25%.
Similarly, social conditionality, another innovation of this CAP reform, aims to link CAP subsidies to working and employment standards, meaning CAP beneficiaries will have to respect the basics of the European social and labour law.
In this way, the aim is for the CAP to be not only greener but also fairer – an issue that has been in the spotlight throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted a number of violations of agricultural workers’ rights.
National strategic plans
Last but not least, the future CAP will offer more power to the 27 member states.
By way of their national strategic plans (NSPs), EU countries will each individually outline and implement the new CAP at the national level.
In other words: While the European Commission will be setting out the general direction of the future CAP, the “how” will be up to national administrations this time.
The latter have been busy these past months formulating their NSPs, which they’ll have to submit to the European Commission by the end of this year for evaluation and feedback.
4. What can we expect from this week’s plenary vote?
In all honesty, there is little doubt that Parliament will approve the package on Tuesday.
That being said, there is a concerted last-minute push, predominantly from the Greens, who have banded together in a last-ditch attempt to persuade citizens to write to their MEPs and convince them to vote against the reform.
Will this have an impact on the outcome of the vote? Highly unlikely. But it’s worth pointing out that several prominent MEPs are leading the charge (including Green MEPs Tilly Metz, Benoît Biteau and Bas Eickhout), all of whom have a strong online presence.
5. What are the next steps?
All eyes are shifting now from Brussels to the individual member states as the next part of the reform emphasises this shift of responsibility from the EU to national members.
The main way this will be achieved is via the national strategic plans, through which member states set out how they intend to meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the CAP.
Member states have until the end of this year to submit their plans to the Commission for approval.
Speaking at a recent event, DG AGRI’s Tassos Haniotis said this should hopefully not take longer than three months, with the Commission’s verdict coming in April, but gave a hard deadline of the end of summer for its feedback, depending on the quality of the submitted plans.
So, what are the main question marks with these strategic plans?
A number of member states are already running behind schedule, with several recently saying that they may not reach the end of year deadline, which would subsequently delay the whole process. Meanwhile, farmers have warned that they cannot afford to sit and wait.
The other issue is ambition – or lack thereof. As explained above, these national plans are designated as the main vehicle of change, that is to say, the main way in which the objectives of the Green Deal will be achieved.
But the verdict is out as to how the Commission plans to enforce this, with EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski already suggesting that he would not reject a plan on the basis of the Green Deal, but would instead bank on the power of persuasion. However, he did recently indicate that a hard red line would be lack of support for small farmers.
What’s more, it seems the Commission’s ambition to tie the EU’s farming subsidies programme to the European Green Deal is set to fall victim to pressure from member states in a behind-closed-doors procedure, after concerns have emerged over the content of the Commission’s implementing act on the strategic plans.
While all the focus is currently on how to turn nice words into actions, another problem is brewing – how to assess these actions, ensuring that member states are putting their money where their mouth is.
The question of how to hold member states accountable and measure the impact of the actions outlined in their CAP plans remains a bone of contention.
For the latest on how these plans progress, be sure to follow EURACTIV’s CAP tracker.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]