German government seeks to boost dialogue with disgruntled farmers

Speaking of the agricultural summit, Anton Hofreiter, leader of the Green parliamentary group, said that "we demand that the billions in public money be tied to social services throughout". [Florence Schulz]

Following the ongoing protests by farmers in recent months, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) were invited to attend an agricultural summit on Monday (2 December). They intend to reinforce dialogue with the agricultural sector, once again. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Because of the growing dissatisfaction among many German farmers, around 40 associations and organisations debated the planned tightening of environmental standards in the Chancellery on Monday.

In the future, farmers will be more closely involved in nature conservation and climate protection decisions, said Merkel.

“I believe that there is also a chance that we will sit here today, that there will be demonstrations, that we will talk to each other every day,” added Klöckner in her opening speech. For the coming year, she announced a “Campaign of Appreciation” for farmers and promised to hold talks with farmers.

Christian Rehmer, an expert on agricultural policy at the environmental NGO BUND, explained that because no nature and animal protection organisations but only agricultural representatives had been invited, this should be understood as a message to farmers.

“I believe that the summit primarily serves to signal the agricultural side: We have not lost sight of you,” he said.

More criticism came from Martin Häusling, spokesman for agricultural policy for the Greens in the EU Parliament.

“The government is constantly talking to the usual protagonists of the farmers’ association. That is because many CDU MPs who sit on the Agriculture Committee are also officials of farmers’ association,” he said.

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Germany must avoid EU Commission infringement proceedings

The farmer demonstrations have become more frequent in recent months.

Only last week, more than 10,000 farmers on 8,600 tractors from all over Germany had travelled to Berlin to demonstrate against falling incomes, increasing environmental requirements and the agricultural package put together at the start of September.

Their resentment is directed, among other things, against the restriction of glyphosate provided for in the package and a renewed, evident tightening of fertiliser rules.

The new rules to restrict fertilisation were a reaction to a warning letter sent by the European Commission in July, which called on Germany to make more considerable efforts to reduce nitrate in groundwater.

The German government was called upon to propose appropriate measures within eight weeks. If it did not manage to do so, it would be threatened with the next stage of the infringement proceedings, during which it would be fined up to €850,000 per day.

The European Court of Justice had ruled already in July 2018 that Germany was in breach of the EU Fertilisation Directive.

In August, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze and Agriculture Minister Klöckner, therefore, travelled to Brussels to present proposals to Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella for tightening the fertiliser regulation drafted in 2017. After the meeting, Klöckner said the new rules would mean “very considerable efforts for farmers”.

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Environmental protection not based on bans

The German Farmers’ Association (DBV) is showing understanding, at least in part.

“With the fertiliser regulation, we know there is not much room for manoeuvre,” DBV President Joachim Rukwied told the Agricultural Summit on Monday.

Instead, it was more important to achieve more significant differentiation at the measuring points and, above all, better dialogue between politics and the agricultural sector. Environmental protection should not be based on bans, according to the association.

The Greens and BUND have advocated for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is currently being negotiated in the EU Council and the Parliament, to be fundamentally reformed.

Speaking of the agricultural summit, Anton Hofreiter, leader of the Green parliamentary group, said the group demands “that the billions in public money be tied to social services throughout”.

Hofreiter’s party favours a rapid redeployment of CAP funds away from land premiums and towards the promotion of environmental measures.

According to NABU President Jörg-Andreas Krüger, the promotion of environmentally friendly agriculture must not be accompanied by cuts in CAP funding as the Commission had planned.

“Mrs Merkel can set the example herself in this respect: In mid-December, she will negotiate the EU budget in Brussels. Then she can ensure that the necessary money is finally made available for the environmentally compatible change in agriculture,” he said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]


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