German ministers to push for end of agri-subsidies in Brussels

Germany's Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection Steffi Lemke (L) and Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Oezdemir (R) address a news conference to present their outlook on a new alliance between agriculture and environmental policy during a congress organised by the Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection, in Berlin, Germany, 18 January 2022. [HENNING SCHACHT/EPA-EFE]

German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir displayed unity at a joint appearance on Tuesday (18 January). The two Green ministers advocate the end of direct agricultural payments and increased organic production. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the most important leverage mechanism to redirect subsidies towards more environmental protection and nature conservation, said Lemke at the agricultural congress of her ministry with Özdemir.

“In future, it must be profitable to farm in a way that preserves nature and agriculture,” she said. The current CAP reform is already taking “first cautious steps” in this direction but does not go far enough in its efforts.

“We have to abandon the system of flat-rate area payments,” said Lemke. Germany will therefore be actively involved with Brussels in preparing the next reform to ensure that public money is only spent on public services in the coming funding period – from 2028 onwards.

The current reform of EU agricultural policy, which will come into force in 2023, was agreed upon by the EU Commission, the European Parliament, and national ministers in summer 2021. Member states were then required to submit their national CAP plans to Brussels by 1 January.

Germany, however, has not yet submitted its plan to the Commission. The agriculture ministry now intends to conclude its national plan by February, Özdemir explained during the meeting.

EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, who also spoke at the event, stressed that the Commission “looks forward to reading the plan, as well as many measures that will greatly contribute to the environment”.

The two ministers also announced that the strategic plan, most of which had been drafted and adopted under the previous CDU agriculture minister, would be evaluated by 2024 and revised if necessary.

Harmonious agricultural and environmental policy

Lemke and Özdemir also want to work closely together in the future in other areas of agricultural and food policy. In contrast to the “traffic light” coalition government, in which both ministries are headed by Green politicians, in the previous legislative period, the agriculture and environment ministries were divided between the two ruling coalition parties.

“In future, we will no longer waste our energy in a tug-of-war between the ministries,” said the Minister of Agriculture. With Lemke, he wants to shape policy “from a single mould”.

One of the focal points that the two ministers want to tackle together is the reduction of pesticides. “Pesticides not only affect the living creatures for which they are produced but also harm biodiversity,” said Lemke.

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The German government will therefore advocate for a more stringent pesticide regulation at the EU level. The effects of individual substances on biodiversity will be examined more closely than before, said the Environment Minister.

The European Commission is currently working on a draft to revise the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (SUD).

At the national level, the two ministries also want to promote the development of alternatives to synthetic chemical pesticides to render their use more environmentally compatible. In this regard, the controversial herbicide glyphosate will be withdrawn from the market by the end of 2023.

Özdemir also announced his intention to turn organic farming into the leading sustainable agriculture model and promote it.

Farmers as climate protectors

In its coalition agreement, the government had agreed to raise the national target for organic farming from 20 to 30 per cent of the total farmland by 2030. In addition, Özdemir now clarified that the target would also apply to the share of organically produced food in overall consumption.

The agriculture ministry will “initiate various measures to cope with this major task”, Özdemir said. Special attention should be paid to strengthening regional value chains, he explained.

In addition, the new government wants to “strengthen farmers in their role as climate protectors”, said Lemke and announced that her Environment Ministry would draw up key points for a “Natural Climate Protection Action Programme” by easter.

According to the environment ministry, the programme will, among other things, aim at the rewetting of peatlands and the renaturation of floodplains. In addition, forests and soils are expected to be used more effectively for carbon farming.

At the meeting of the agriculture ministers in Brussels, Özdemir spoke out, clearly favouring better remuneration for carbon farming – the agricultural practice that captures carbon emissions within the soil.

After the EU Commission presented a communication on this in December, the national ministers plan to adopt a common position by March.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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