The European Parliament has put forward a new proposal designed to link Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to social working conditions in an “easy and un-bureaucratic manner” in a bid to reach a compromise on what has become a controversial point in the CAP negotiations.
The proposal, which was sent to the Portuguese presidency on Friday (23 April), outlines an approach to ensure that farmers who do not comply with the applicable working and employment conditions are penalised.
“Under this approach, member states shall simply ensure compliance with the rules on social conditionality through checks performed by their existing control systems” via the relevant competent enforcement authorities, the letter reads.
In this way, social conditionality would not create “any additional administrative burden” but a “strong dissuasive effect,” the letter argues, as there will be no additional control requirements either for the Commission or for the national paying agencies.
This would bring “real benefits to workers in the sector, tackling undeclared work, contributing to improving working conditions, ensuring equal treatment for all workers in agriculture, as well as preventing unfair competition in our common market,” the letter says.
A strong social chapter in the CAP would help to establish a level playing field throughout the EU on worker’s rights, which MEPs say would also benefit employers.
“Currently, farmers complying with the applicable labour standards are disadvantaged compared to those breaking the law or collective labour agreements and this unfair competition must be stopped,” the letter emphasises.
Amid growing calls for its inclusion in the CAP reform, social conditionality is proving to be a thorny issue in the ongoing CAP negotiations between EU countries and the European Parliament.
The Parliament supports the inclusion of social conditionality, voting through a series of amendments in October on the shape of the post-2020 CAP which included mandatory references to ‘social conditionality’.
In this way, CAP subsidies would be conditional upon farmers’ upholding working and employment standards.
However, EU agriculture ministers are reluctant to include social conditionality in the CAP reform over fears that it will create extra red tape for farmers.
EU farmers association COPA-COGECA have also expressed concern over the idea, arguing that it falls outside the remit of the CAP.
However, speaking during a press conference on Monday (26 April), Portuguese agriculture minister Maria do Céu Antunes, current holder of the six month rotating presidency, was positive about the possibility of reaching a deal on the issue.
Confirming that agriculture ministers have received the proposal but are yet to discuss it, she said that she was “sure that this will make a useful contribution to us so that we will be able to close on the social dimension as well”.
Ministers are due to meet for another trilogue meeting on Friday (30 April) to discuss social conditionality, among other issues.
Highlighting that she is “very much aware” of the responsibility of shaping CAP reform, do Céu Antunes stressed that negotiators want to turn it into “something which reflects the social values, the values we want for our society.”
“We want something which is sustainable in environmental and social terms as well,” she added.
As the impetus builds for negotiators to bring CAP reform discussions to a close, stakeholders have warned that social conditionality must not be forfeited at the price of clinching a quick deal.
“It is crucial that social conditionality becomes part of the final agreement between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU,” reads a recent letter sent by trade unions, civil society organisations and academics.
“The case to be made is not just ethical – this is the only way to avoid social dumping, ensuring that the CAP can protect all those farmers who do respect workers’ rights, but suffer unfair competition from those that do not,” it reads.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna and Benjamin Fox]