MEPs ask to pause CAP biodiversity requirements amid Ukraine war

G7 leaders meeting in Germany this weekend must start to put the world food system on a more resilient footing, writes Olivier De Schutter. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The majority group leaders of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee asked the Commission to consider temporary derogations of the EU’s already adopted agriculture subsidies reform in light of the war in Ukraine.

A “modification of the Common Agricultural Policy [CAP] for a limited period of time” could be “a way to counter global shortages in food supply and to make a contribution to food security”, the letter, seen by EURACTIV, reads.

The document was drafted by the committee’s chair, conservative German MEP Norbert Lins, with the majority of parliamentary groups’ coordinators agreeing on the content and on sending the letter to the Commission on Wednesday (18 May).

However, not all parties were convinced by the move, as it could reopen the debate around the CAP and in particular on the environmental measures.

In June 2021, the EU legislators had found a political agreement on the CAP reform, which is set to come into force from 2023, and all relevant EU legislation was adopted by the beginning of this year.

The letter, whose content is quite generic, makes a reference to Article 148 of the CAP strategic plans regulation which features the possibility for the Commission to turn the temporary exception into a permanent solution if the specific problems that led to the derogation persist.

According to a source, the main objective of the letter is to evaluate the possibility to extend also to the next CAP programme the suspension of the requirement of ecological focus areas (EFA) conceived to improve biodiversity on farms.

In the previous CAP reform, which is still in force temporarily until the end of the year, farmers with arable land exceeding 15 hectares must ensure that at least 5% of their land must be dedicated to areas beneficial for biodiversity, such as trees, hedges or land left fallow.

But in the new CAP rules set to enter into force from 2023, the requirement changes to 4% of fallow land for all farmers, regardless of farm size – one of the main areas where farmers now call for more flexibility in order to take more land into production.

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In March, the Commission allowed an exceptional and temporary derogation to allow the production of any crops on fallow land this year while maintaining the full level of greening payments for farmers.

Wednesday’s letter comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a strain on global agricultural markets. It points to the final communiqué adopted by the G7 agriculture ministers during the weekend, which warns of “expected serious consequences for global food security and nutrition” in light of the war.

Now, it is primarily member states who still have leeway in how to implement the EU framework through their National Strategic Plans, which they are still finalising in a process of cooperation with the Commission.

So far, in its reaction to the Ukraine war, the EU executive has focused on giving the member states more freedom in this implementation, rather than changing EU rules.

The letter goes on to ask the Commission for a legal assessment of a potential “modification,” specifically with regard to the so-called conditionality, that is, the ground rules a farmer has to follow to receive CAP direct payments in the first place.

The move had been criticised by environmentalists, who warned that giving up fallow lands could have detrimental effects on climate and biodiversity protection efforts while bringing limited additional production.

However, the letter does not go into detail on which conditionality rules exactly should be modified.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Nathalie Weatherald]

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