German farmers reject government’s €1 billion ‘consolation prize’ for stricter fertiliser regulations

The money is a sign of appreciation and support in difficult times, according to Bavaria's Minister-President Markus Söder. But the leader of the Green Party, Anton Hofreiter, interpreted it differently, saying that the promised billion are mostly a distraction from "the grand coalition's political failures". EPA-EFE/OMER MESSINGER [Omer Messinger/ epa]

Germany’s grand coalition wants to support agriculture with €1 billion when stricter fertiliser regulations come into force soon. Farmers, however, are outraged, as they are demanding political action instead of money. Yet, the clock is ticking in Brussels and hefty fines are imminent. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The measures decided by the coalition of the conservative Union of CDU/CSU and the social democrats (SPD) to spend €1 billion over four years on agri-environmental programmes have attracted considerable criticism, from none other than farmers themselves.

“We don’t need subsidies. We need prospects,” announced the president of the farmer’s association of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Detlef Kurre. And in Schleswig-Holstein, the farmers’ association wrote in a statement: “Make proper policy and put away your wallet”.

The national farmers’ association known as DBV was somewhat more moderate. According to DBV president Joachim Ruckwied, Berlin’s proposed financial boost was a “strong signal”. However, he also said that money alone would not solve the challenges, as technical deficiencies regarding the tightening of the fertiliser law still had to be corrected.

Germans protest in Berlin demanding radical change of agricultural sector

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Berlin in the tenth “We’re fed up with it!” rally on Saturday (18 January) in an effort to bring about a radical change in Germany’s agricultural sector. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In a five-hour meeting on Wednesday ( 29 January) night, the grand coalition agreed, among other things, to support farmers in changing their farming habits with the help of €1 billion. This is so farmers can cope with the tightening of fertiliser regulations, as many farmers fear this will lead to crop losses.

The money is a sign of appreciation and support in difficult times, according to Bavaria’s Minister-President Markus Söder. But the leader of the Green Party, Anton Hofreiter, saw it differently, saying the promised billion are mostly a distraction from “the grand coalition’s political failures”.

According to media reports, the ministries of agriculture and the environment want to present a joint draft on Friday (31 January) to tighten up the German fertiliser regulation.

“Big efforts for farmers”

For months, both ministries have been involved in delicate negotiations with representatives of the agricultural sector, while the political mood surrounding the issue of fertiliser regulation has heated up considerably.

In July last year, the European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against Germany. In reference to an ECJ ruling of the previous year, it contended that Germany’s current fertiliser regulation and its 2017 amendment were insufficient.

For years, just under one-third of the German groundwater monitoring stations have indicated excessive nitrate levels, which is partly due to the soil’s excessive pollution levels.

Fertiliser regulation: German ministers warn farmers will have to make extensive efforts

The European Commission and German agricultural and environmental ministers met in Brussels on Wednesday (28 August) to discuss the country’s fertiliser regulation. It was concluded that although Germany is on the right track, it should seriously speed up its efforts and work on the text’s precision. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany was, therefore, requested by the European Commission to make its implementation of the EU directive much stricter to reduce the nitrate content found in groundwater. Should the German government fail to comply, the Commission could impose fines amounting to €850,000 per day.

In August, the responsible ministers Schulze (SPD) and Klöckner (CDU) therefore travelled to Brussels for talks with Karmenu Vella, the EU’s Environment Commissioner at the time. After the meeting, Klöckner announced that much stricter measures would be taken, which would mean “very, very great efforts for farmers”.

Among other things, the Commission is demanding that in the so-called ‘red areas’, farmers should refrain from using fertilisers for specific periods, and in general, apply 20% fewer fertilisers than the regional average.

The clock is ticking

This led to massive protests by German farmers, as they fear yield losses and complain about the ever stricter environmental regulations that restrict their work more generally. Besides, the German network of monitoring stations supposedly did not represent well the state of groundwater and the so-called ‘red areas’ were far too broad.

In recent months, farmers took to the streets in droves. During the International Green Week, 500 tractors drove into Berlin and farmers protested against stricter climate protection regulations, while many continue to worry about their financial livelihood, given the very meagre food prices.

Following the announcement of the €1 billion support package, several dozen farmers demonstrated again today in Magdeburg, holding up signs like: “We cannot be bought”.

According to the regional TV channel NDR, Agricultural Minister Klöckner expects that the European Commission will not be satisfied with the current draft of the fertiliser regulation either. This was stated in a confidential letter to the CDU/CSU parliamentary group.

In this case, both ministries would have to react quickly, as the new fertiliser regulation is to come into force as early as April, and should already be passed by the cabinet next Wednesday.

Time to sow: Planting the seeds for the future of EU's agriculture

The expected showdown about the EU’s post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the development of the bloc’s new food strategy could set a cornerstone in the process of shaping Europe’s agriculture in the decades to come.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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