A provisional agreement has been reached between European lawmakers on the reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), sealing the fate of the bloc’s farming subsidy programme for the 2023-2027 period.
The deal, struck on Friday (25 June) after two days of talks, brought an end to long and tense negotiations between the European Parliament, the EU Council and the Commission that started last November.
“On some points, we may have wished for a different outcome but overall I think we can be content with the agreement we have achieved,” said Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.
Although not perfect, the final compromise is overall a good one, according to Norbert Lins, chair of the European Parliament’s agriculture Committee (AGRI).
Securing an agreement on CAP reform was a key priority of Portugal and was achieved in the very last days of their EU presidency, which ends on 30 June.
“The progress we’ve made in the last two days gave us confidence that we have the conditions in place to reach an agreement,” commented Portuguese’s Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Antunes, who pulled off the aim of getting the CAP finished on her watch.
The most contentious issues belonging to the sensitive strategic plans dossier – which constitutes the backbone of the whole reform – were already hashed out and agreed upon on Friday night (25 June).
The previous round of negotiations in May failed after Council and Parliament did not find a common ground on the eco-schemes, namely the percentage of CAP’s direct payments earmarked for environmentally-friendly agricultural practices.
The compromise fixes the eco-scheme ring-fencing at 25% for the whole period, with an initial two-year learning period and a “floor” mechanism at 20%, a slight movement compared to the last round of talks which saw the Council pushing for an 18% “floor”.
The “floor” allows the spending of unused funds between 20% and 25% of the eco-schemes, although the overall amount of unused funds below the floor needs to be compensated by the end of the programming period through some compensation mechanisms.
This final landing point was celebrated as a win from the chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI), Pascal Canfin, who said that thanks to their “strong budget and a robust design”, these eco schemes will successfully prevent greenwashing.
Extended eco-schemes will offer increased protection for the environment and nature in a CAP which is “economically socially environmental more just,” said Parliament’s rapporteur on strategic plans Peter Jahr.
Criticism on eco-schemes came from Greens MEP Martin Häusling: “Up to now, we don’t know exactly what these eco- schemes are going to be like because they have not been defined,” he said, adding that since they depend on member states for their implementation they’re going to be very weak.
Green deal alignment
One of the biggest bones of contention was the alignment of the Green Deal, including the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, as well as the Biodiversity strategy, with the future CAP.
This was one of Parliament’s red lines, but while MEPs did get the coveted reference to the Green Deal targets, this came only in the form of a recital of the Strategic Plans Regulation, rather than an article, leaving it on a much weaker footing.
“This is a big step in the right direction and work is ongoing but aligning the CAP with the Green Deal is now possible,” said Commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of the Green Deal.
The new CAP will include a new social dimension, strongly backed by the Parliament and that was present not in the original Commission’s proposal.
Member states will start implementation of this new social conditionality voluntarily from 2023 and mandatorily from 2025.
There will be also a two-year ‘rendez-vous’ clause, with the Commission asked to monitor the impact of the mechanism on workers conditions and come up with a study.
“The CAP’s new social dimension can bring real benefits to workers from day one,” veteran socialist MEP Paolo De Castro told EURACTIV, adding that, finally, farmers who take care of their employees and comply with Labour standards will no longer be disadvantaged.
Who’s the winner
For many, the Council came out on top as a clear winner in the tabled compromise agreement.
“The Parliament did not achieve much and if we consider the compromise about eco-scheme, I say the Council has won,” said Greens MEP Martin Häusling.
But AGRI chair Norbert Lins had a very different take on the outcome, maintaining that the tabled deal represents a “middle ground” between Council and Parliament.
“So this was the situation four weeks ago. But then they moved a lot towards us, and now we have a balanced situation, a balanced agreement,” he told EURACTIV, adding that it is important to look not only on the last mandate but the process as a whole and how far the two sides have moved towards each other.
Criticism toward Commission
Both Lins and CAP rapporteur Ulrike Müller did not shy away from criticising the Commission’s role, or lack thereof, in brokering the deal.
“It was absolutely a surprise that the Commission did not come up with some papers,” Müller told EURACTIV, adding that the start of the negotiations was “a mess”.
“We saw conflicts between Commissioner Wojciechowski and Vice-President Timmermans and that’s not okay for such a high regulation,” she said, pointing out that negotiators need the Commission to act as a bridge-builder.
“This was not the case yesterday evening (24 June),” she pointed out.
Lins agreed, saying that the general performance of the Commission as an honest broker during the trilogue “could have been better”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]