Hundreds of European farmers who gathered in Brussels on the eve of an EU budget summit sent a terse message to national leaders: Hands off the CAP.
Some 400 representatives of farm groups and cooperatives agreed a five-point declaration on Wednesday (6 February), warning EU leaders to hold the line on funding for the Common Agricultural Policy or risk killing jobs and undermining food security.
“This industry is the backbone of rural development,” said Gerd Sonnleitner, president of the European farmers organisation Copa. “We cannot solve problems in Europe by finding areas that are doing well and cutting them.”
Antónia Figueiredo, vice president to the Cogeca agricultural cooperatives group, added that farmers insist on maintaining farm spending, which reached €58.6 billion in 2012. “Having a budget a the current level is vital and crucial,” she said.
National leaders will try to hammer out a budget of slightly less than €1 trillion for 2014-2020 after failing to reach agreement in a similar exercise in November. They are under intense pressure to trim spending while at the same time sparing major EU programmes, including agriculture and regional cohesion.
CAP takes up 40% of total EU spending, the EU’s largest single programme and an easy target of austerity advocates, including Britain and Germany. But big farm states like France and Poland are more wary of slashing farm support.
Farm representatives say cuts of anywhere from €17 billion to €25.5 billion are being considered from the European Commission’s draft budget of €386.9 for 2014-2020.
But Sonnleitner told journalists that farmers will oppose any reduction and called on the European Parliament, which for the first time has direct say in EU spending, to fight cuts to what he called a “cheap” programme and a sector that provides 26 million direct jobs.
“We cannot allow our CAP to be weakened,” he said.
Singing for harmonisation
Separately, farmers from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia planned to sing to gathering EU leaders on Thursday to call for fairer treatment of Baltic farmers and other from the new EU member states. Some Baltic farmers get direct payments that are 33% of the EU average, and the European Parliament’s agriculture committee has called for reducing the gap between older and newer members states.
Other pressure groups seized on the budget talks to call for national leaders to address other concerns, such as proposals to weaken measures proposed by the Commission that would link direct payments to farmers to their environmental performance.
“Political leaders can’t brush aside public opinion,” said Tony Long, who heads the WWF European policy office. "Taxpayers want the future CAP to ensure environmental best practices in the countryside as well as healthy food. So far these voices have been largely ignored.”
“EU taxpayers will only accept a strong agriculture budget if it brings about a comprehensive greening of the entire CAP," said Christopher Stopes, president of IFOAM EU, which represents organic farmers.
“Untargeted Pillar 1 payments have for too long contributed to the intensification of agriculture and benefited large-scale farmers and agri-businesses to detriment of our environment and have impacted negatively on the rural economy,” Stopes said in a statement.