Money for agriculture must go to those who cultivate the land, MEPs insist

A Bulgarian farmer watches a tractor during preparation of the soil for sowing rape in a field near the village of Ezeratz in Bulgaria on 28 August 2017. [EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV]

The ample funding provided by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy should be used by real farmers and not those who lease land for profit, said members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. EURACTIV’s media partner Dnevnik reports.

A delegation of committee members was on a three-day visit to Bulgaria. During the visit, they met producer organisations, representatives of various agricultural sectors, the non-governmental sector and other organizations.

Committee chairman Czesław Adam Siekierski (EPP, Poland) pointed out that land concentration is excessive, while he believes it is very important that the land is in the hands of producers who actually cultivate it.

Changes in agricultural policy

Under the CAP reform, no substantial changes to the targets are envisaged but there will be changes in the form in which these targets are implemented, he noted, adding that, for the EU, one of the objectives of the CAP reform is to fight climate change.

Member states outline their specific capacities to achieve European goals in strategic plans. One of the changes is that they will now come up with plans not only for the second pillar of the CAP [rural development policy] but also for the first, direct payments to farmers.

“We think the goals can be better achieved if we give the member states more opportunities,” Siekierski said. In his words, a number of different options are foreseen, and the potential of the member states must be taken into account.

He stressed that the European Commission will receive each country’s strategic plans and analyse them, but will not adopt decisions that may lead to distortion of competition.

Siekierski pointed out that only 6-7% of the total number of farmers are under 35 years old and one of the goals of the reforms is to combat that trend. Another goal is to stabilise farm incomes in the EU, as they are only 15% of the income of other professionals.

He noted that agricultural markets should also be stabilised because of the fluctuations in the weather conditions, which create losses for producers and market volatility, with strong fluctuations in prices.

There is also a problem with competition, Siekierski said, explaining that the EU exports agricultural products worth 30 billion euros and imports products worth 111 billion euros, which means there is a negative trade balance. In addition, the EU is importing agricultural products that do not meet its high food safety standards.

Interest-free loans

Bulgarian MEP Momchil Nekov (S&D) spoke of the need to have interest-free loans for producer organisations.

“Unfair trade practices in the food chain are another important topic,” he said.

“If the profit from one product is 100 leva, the producer gets 20 leva, the processor 30 leva and the one who sells 50 leva. So the whole burden falls on the producer, who, despite being the most vulnerable, gets the least.”

Nekov said that the proposal to cut the Rural Development Programme by 15% and transfer these funds to migration was inadmissible, pointing out that the programme actually helps to fight internal migration from villages to cities.

Direct payments

Vladimir Urutchev (EPP) recalled that the CAP is the largest EU policy in financial terms. Over this programming period, more than €400 billion have been earmarked, more than a third of the total budget.

He noted that the largest single item of European money goes to direct payments and said that without such support, member states could be jeopardising food security. There is, however, the question of where this money goes, added the MEP.

The biggest part of direct payments goes to those who possess huge amounts of land, lease it and make an investment. European law does not prohibit that practice because freedom of capital movement is a fundamental freedom.

“We need to see how to limit it,” Urutchev said.

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