At the last minute, the German Bundesrat approved a new fertiliser regulation to avoid having to pay high penalties to the EU on Friday (27 March). But many farmers are afraid of going bankrupt, now that they will not be allowed to use as much fertiliser, starting in 2021. EURACTIV Germany reports.
It was a historic moment for German agriculture: in a special session on Friday, the Bundesrat agreed to tighten the fertiliser regulation.
At the same time, the chamber of the states (Länderkammer) obtained an extension of the deadline for the implementation of the new rules. Parts of the regulation, especially the controversial revision of the so-called “red zones”, must now be completed by 1 January 2021, three months later than initially specified.
An application by the state of Bavaria was rejected. In it, the Free State had demanded a general postponement of the new fertilisation regulation’s starting date and applied for further relaxation, such as the fertilisation of all so-called ‘catch crops’.
Since the Upper House (Bundesrat) did not approve Bavaria’s motion, the state was “ultimately left with no choice but to not agree to the fertilisation regulation”, said Bavarian Agriculture Minister Michaela Kaniber.
Countries enter into a deal with EU Commission
The now agreed extension until January 2021 is based on a request from the Saarland, which was supported by the states of Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia during the plenary session.
In the days before the vote, which was brought forward from 3 April, the federal states had called for greater flexibility on the part of the EU Commission. The Commission had put Germany under time pressure – if the stricter fertiliser regulation had not been adopted by the beginning of April, it would have initiated the second stage of infringement proceedings, at the end of which Germany could face fines of €850,000 per day.
On Tuesday (24 March), the agriculture ministers of Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia wrote a letter directly to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asking for more time if they were to approve the regulation.
An endangered food supply
The fertiliser regulation, which transposes the EU’s Nitrates Directive into German law, had been criticised by Brussels for years. However, the toughening of the regulation in 2017 had also been considered insufficient by the Commission, given the constantly high nitrate levels in German groundwater.
In recent months, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) had been working on a new version under intense pressure.
However, the current draft is considered a minimal compromise, which is criticised by farmers and environmental organisations.
The German Farmers’ Association (DBV) called the new regulation “technically deficient”, as the now prescribed 20% reduction of fertilisers in the “red areas” would “negatively influence quality and quantity of the harvest and ultimately weaken the entire agriculture and food production”, criticised DBV President Joachim Rukwied.
The Farmers’ Association had strongly advocated a postponement of the fertiliser regulation and emphasised that a tightening of it would hit farmers hard, especially in times of the corona pandemic.
The farmer organisation “Land creates connection” chose even clearer words as it told the European Commission in a letter that the new regulation would endanger the supply of food during the coronavirus crisis.
In a letter of recommendation on Monday (23 March), the Bundesrat’s Agricultural Policy Committee had also doubted that the current regulation was the best way to protect the interests of the agricultural sector and ensure the country’s water sources are protected.
It found “a large number of technical shortcomings”, which it said were difficult for farmers to implement. According to the committee, the regulation should be more strongly oriented towards the ‘polluter-pays’ principle, according to which not all farmers operating in the “red areas” would have to manage with fewer fertilisers, but only those whose fertilisation behaviour had been proven to cause excessive nitrate levels.
Besides, the Agriculture Committee also called for further instruments and financial incentives for farmers to manage with fewer fertilisers.
The end of a decade-long stalemate
According to environmental protection organisations, the new regulation barely meets the requirements of the European Commission and is far from sufficient for the sustainable protection of water sources.
After the vote, the president of environmental NGO Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), Jörg-Andreas Krüger wrote that a fundamental debate on sustainable animal husbandry is now needed in Germany. “Hopefully this chapter of a decade-long stalemate is now finally over,” he added, expressing relief.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]