German farmers, environmentalists slam current state of eco-schemes

By the end of the year, EU countries must submit national strategy plans to the European Commission that regulate how CAP subsidies will be distributed at national level from 2023. Germany had already passed national laws on this in June - even before the agreement on the reform at EU level.

This article is part of our special report Germany’s roadmap for greener CAP subsidies.

Farmers and environmentalists are calling on Germany to improve the implementation of the green architecture in the Common Agricultural Policy. But between German elections and looming deadlines, it is unclear whether this can be done on time. EURACTIV Germany reports.

By the end of the year, EU countries must submit to the European Commission national strategy plans that regulate how CAP subsidies will be distributed at national level from 2023.

Germany already adopted its own laws on the matter in June, before an EU-wide agreement was even reached on the reform, and additional regulations are set to be passed to ensure these are adapted to the details of the legal framework agreed in Brussels.

But agricultural stakeholders are warning that the country is not making the most of the opportunity to chart a new course for the sector.

“What we see there is a lost opportunity,” Jörg-Andreas Krüger, president of the nature conservation organisation NABU, told EURACTIV Germany about the national laws implementing the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The deputy secretary-general of the German Farmers’ Association, Udo Hemmerling, also saw room for improvement.

“At the moment, we are still discussing mainly eco-schemes at the federal level and our regional associations are discussing the design of the second pillar agri-environmental measures,” he said.

Bundestag adopts national CAP package amid ongoing EU negotiations

While negotiations on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform have not been concluded in Brussels, the German Bundestag, racing to complete work before national elections in September, has passed a legislative package to be implemented at the national level.

Eco-schemes

However, the list of eco-schemes – incentives paid to farmers who voluntarily adhere to environmentally friendly practices, decided at state level – has already come under fire.

“We still have a lot to discuss about which eco-schemes should be offered at all,” said Hemmerling. Especially for pasture farms with grassland sites, the envisaged catalogue of measures does not offer enough, he explained.

“Our main point is to take another critical look at the catalogue of eco-schemes to see whether it is sufficient for farms with grassland,” Hemmerling said. According to the farmer’s association, for example, consideration should be given to a grassland climate bonus as an additional measure.

However, according to nature conservation organisation BUND’s Christian Rehmer, making more eco-schemes would “cannibalise” the already existing ones.

Instead, given the limited overall budget for eco-schemes, he suggested it may more important to weigh up whether additional measures truly bring additional ecological benefits.

Organic farmers, in particular, would be worse off according to the current plans despite doing a great deal for the environment, said Alexander Gerber, chairman of the Federation of the Organic Food Industry (BÖLW).

Financial priorities

Another stumbling block is the distribution of financial resources between the different aspects of green architecture set in the various legislative proposals.

“We were in favour of introducing eco-schemes in Germany financed through the first pillar. The significantly increased reallocation to the second pillar, however, turned out to be somewhat larger for us than we would have liked,” said Hemmerling.

BUND would like to see the next federal government allocate 30% of direct payments to eco-schemes instead of 23%, which is the minimum amount stipulated by the EU.

The farmers’ association also believes Germany should take its cue from the framework set by the EU with regard to conditionality – another ‘green’ aspect within the first pillar that links direct payments to certain minimum standards with regard to environmental protection and animal welfare – and not introduce additional restrictions, said Hemmerling.

For example, the agriculture ministry is planning to impose a 4% threshold for the share of fallow land, while two other options are allowed under the EU framework.

“Our position is: this is EU law and all three options should be offered to farmers in Germany,” Hemmerling said.

Upcoming election could shake up Germany’s stance on gene editing, CAP funding

As the campaign for Germany’s 26 September federal elections approaches crunch time, EURACTIV Germany took a look at what the elections could mean for key agricultural policy issues – from scrapping farmers’ direct payments to the use of new genomic techniques.

Tight schedule

However, with elections round the corner and a cabinet unlikely to be set up very soon, it remains questionable whether there will be enough time to decide which eco-schemes should be offered before Germany has to submit its CAP strategic plan to the Commission as early as December.

The fact that the EU legal framework has not yet been formally adopted also worries the farmers’ association, said Hemmerling, noting that the Commission must in any case commit to approving the CAP national strategic plans within the envisaged timetable.

“It is very important for the farmers: we need real clarity in the summer of 2022, also about the details of the support, because by then the farmers will already be making their cultivation plans,” he added.

[Edited by Natasha Foote/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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