As the European Commission prepares to put forward an updated multi-annual financial framework proposal (MFF) next week (29 April), the agri-food sector has unanimously called for keeping post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) spending at least at its current level in value and avoiding further cuts.
Expectations are high for the updated long-term EU budget for the 2021-2027 period, also regarding the of the bloc’s main farming subsidies programme, which was heavily downsized in the proposals discussed in the past year and a half.
The original 2018 Commission proposal laid down a huge loss of funds in the rural development aid, the so-called second pillar, which fell by 28% compared to the 2014-2020 CAP budget, whereas the first pillar only decreased by 11%.
The latest draft budget, put forward by European Council President Charles Michel at February’s EU summit, resulted in an overall €5 billion further cut for the CAP.
Therefore, a large group of farmers started protesting before the arrival of EU leaders, welcoming them with dozens of tractors parked in the Parc du Cinquantenaire area.
As the MFF deck is being reshuffled, several actors in the agri-food sector have seen this as the right moment to neutralise the looming threat of cuts in the EU farming spending, since the crisis has highlighted the key role of the food supply chain in helping to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter addressed to Ursula von der Leyen on Monday (20 April), European farmers’ organisation COPA-COGECA called for a strong and adequate budgetary allocation for the CAP, at least equivalent to the expenditure in the current MFF.
The organisation asked the Commission to consider agriculture as a priority sector in the economic recovery plan, enabling also economic measures from outside the CAP budget directed to farmers.
A request of thinking “outside the box” that came also from the young farmers’ organisation, the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA).
“If acknowledged as strategic, as is the case at the moment across Europe, it should then be better reflected in the budgetary priorities put forward in the next MFF,” said CEJA President Jannes Maes, adding that young farmers are expecting a CAP budget in line with the significant ambitions of this century.
During a hearing with Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, several MEPs in the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI) expressed their concerns about the possibility of further cuts in the CAP.
However, experienced socialist MEP Paolo De Castro was more optimistic, telling EURACTIV that the risk of cuts existed only before the outbreak fo the crisis, as there will be a richer budget considered “a crucial tool for dealing with this dramatic pandemic.”
Member states are also advocating for avoiding cuts for EU agriculture. In a highly welcomed Spanish non-paper presented by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez before the European Council, the allocations for both Cohesion Policy and CAP should be maintained.
The document says that it is key to ensure that the CAP provides appropriate support to ensure the ability of farmers to adjust to the increasing needs, as the European agriculture has proven to be a key element of stability, self-sufficiency and geopolitical autonomy in times of crisis.
According to Yves Madre, a former advisor to the European Commissioner and co-founder of the think tank Farm Europe, it would be sensible to at least keep the CAP budget at its 2014-20 level in value.
“However, it seems that some in the Commission would like to believe that all they thought and planned before the crisis will still be valid as soon as the health crisis will pass,” he told EURACTIV.
“On top of that, I don’t think the EU can afford any requirements which would induce de-growth of EU agriculture,” he warned, adding that it does not mean lacking ambition when it comes to sustainability.
For him, ideas seen during the pending discussions on the Farm to Fork (F2F) and the Biodiversity Strategy, such as the one that sustainability rules are acting against economy and growth, should be rejected.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]