This article is part of our special report How the Ukraine war is reshaping the CAP.
The debate over scrapping environmental measures to produce more food and mitigate problems caused by the Ukraine war has split German policymakers and so far, federal and regional governments have not been able to find a middle ground.
In a meeting on Friday (1 April), Germany’s federal and regional agriculture ministers failed to reach a consensus on whether feed or food production should be temporarily allowed in so-called ecological focus areas.
Usually, farmers are not allowed to cultivate these areas in an effort to boost biodiversity and climate protection. In Germany’s federal system, both the federal and the state governments would have to agree to ease the restrictions.
After Friday’s meeting ended without an agreement on a joint position ahead of the formal legislative process, the regional representatives are now set to vote on the matter on 8 April.
In response to the war in Ukraine, which is a major exporter of key foodstuffs such as wheat or oilseeds, the European Commission proposed in its recent communication on food security that member states should allow feed production and the use of pesticides on fallow lands in order to ensure sufficient domestic food production.
No pesticides in protected areas
For Germany’s Green-led agriculture ministry, however, the EU executive’s proposals go too far.
In a statement, it said that allowing the use of pesticides on protected areas would be counterproductive for the achievement of the green goals set out in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.
Instead, Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir has proposed allowing fallow lands to be temporarily used for feed while still banning the use of pesticides and the cultivation of food crops.
This would help make Germany more autonomous in terms of feed supply while avoiding the protected areas being ploughed, he told journalists after last week’s meeting.
Ploughing would destroy much of the progress made on biodiversity and release the CO2 stored in the soil, while the gain in terms of food production would be minimal, he added.
Many federal regions, however, take a different view and have called for Germany to fully implement what the Commission has proposed, or even go further and allow all agricultural production on fallow lands.
According to Peter Hauck, the conservative minister of the south-western region of Baden-Württemberg, fallow lands “do not make a key contribution to stopping the climate crisis.”
However, they could be “used to produce food for 10 million people,” he said after the meeting.
Even after talks were prolonged by several hours, the ministers remained split and seemed unwilling to budge on the issue.
“I have never experienced such thorny discussions before,” Social Democrat minister Till Backhaus from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania said.
When the regional governments meet again on Friday to formally vote on the matter in the second chamber of parliament, the Bundesrat, they will have the chance to make amendments to what the federal government has proposed.
Backhaus was optimistic that those regions that want to allow more production would manage to have the Bundesrat greenlight the amendments they seek.
“We already have a majority among the federal states,” he said.
Despite all the differences, however, there is still a basic consensus between the federal and regional ministers on EU green goals, with Hauck stressing that “absolutely nobody among us questions the Common Agricultural Policy, the Green Deal, or the Farm to Fork Strategy”.
The European Commission had recently deferred several legislative proposals, including the Sustainable Use of Pesticides regulation (SUR) and the nature restoration targets, meant to implement the EU’s flagship strategy for sustainable food production due to the war in Ukraine.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]