Time to sow: Planting the seeds for the future of EU’s agriculture

A farmer's hand planting seed in the ground [amenic181/Shutterstock]

The expected showdown about the EU’s post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the development of the bloc’s new food strategy could set a cornerstone in the process of shaping Europe’s agriculture in the decades to come.

At the end of last millennium, the year 2020 was depicted as the ending point for slow global food processes that required time to be put in place, such as several development goals related to agriculture or the end of world’s starvation.

Now that it’s here, 2020 looks more like the peak of a transition period whose edge is still not in sight.

The same can be said about the state of the art of EU agriculture, which is facing a time of sowing rather than harvesting.

What makes things more complicated is the fact that the laying of seeds for the future of the sector also comes with big changes: new institutional players in both European Parliament and Commission and a new seven-year budget to decide on.

Although things might seem to move slowly and even lag behind at times, Europe’s agriculture is living a defining moment and the decision being made will shape the agri-food world of tomorrow.

Here’s a sneak peek of what is at stake in 2020.

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CAP, the final lap

It’s highly likely that debate over the next CAP, the bloc’s main subsidies programme for agriculture, won’t come to an end by the end of the year. Everyone recognises that we’re entering the final lap though.

The ball is currently in the member states’ court, as the amount of money dedicated to CAP is yet to be decided and depends on the parallel discussion over the next seven-year EU budget.

In the meantime, EU ministers and MEPs are drawing up the final details of their positions on the new delivery money, the list of eligible investments and the green architecture, before entering into interinstitutional negotiations.

During his below-tone hearing at the European Parliament, the new Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the Commission’s original CAP proposal is not definitive and can still be modified.

Although a new initiative, started from scratch, is out of the question, the greening measures and enhanced environmental conditionality could be the key for introducing changes to the initial proposal in the context of the European Green Deal.

As it is virtually impossible to rubber-stamp the CAP reform before the start of 2021-2027 programming period, a transitional regulation is also needed to be agreed on in order to prorogate the current rules for at least a year or maybe two.

A group of member states is also ready to take up a battle for scrapping external convergence in the next CAP. The concept was introduced by the 2013 CAP reform and was meant to reduce the difference in the average support for hectare.

Commission, Finnish presidency clash with member states over CAP convergence

A group of member states opposed to retaining external convergence in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), have criticised the Finnish Council presidency for not even considering scrapping the concept.

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Organic farming and F2F

In the Spring of 2020, the EU executive is expected to unveil its much-awaited Farm 2 Fork (F2F) strategy, and the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen intends for it to be a comprehensive EU food policy that covers every step in the food chain from production to consumption.

The strategy will be coordinated by the European Green Deal’s mighty man Frans Timmermans and will involve Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides for the food safety aspects, as well as Poland’s Janusz Wojciechowski and the Lithuanian Virginijus Sinkevičius for agriculture and seafood products, respectively.

The F2F is, indeed, embedded in von der Leyen’s flagship environmental policy and will set the bar for the ambition of the Commission when it comes to making not only agricultural practices but the entire food chain more sustainable.

MEPs have high hopes for the EU's new food policy

Lawmakers in the European Parliament expect an ambitious Commission’s proposal on the new EU long-term and integrated food policy, that ensures safe, quality and affordable foodstuffs to all European citizens but without harming actors in the food supply chain.

A first test for an effective change of pace will be represented by the announced strategy to promote organic farming at the EU level.

Commissioner Wojciechowski spoke of an “offensive” action plan to be implemented in 2020, which will look at how organic production can help the agri-food sector improve its sustainability across the agri-food supply chain.

Asked by EURACTIV at a recent press point, Wojciechowski said that “consumption is the main barrier to the development of organic in Europe” and that this problem lies in the market, especially involving issues about how to sell organic products.

EU's new agriculture Commissioner vows to promote organic farming

The EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, highlighted the promotion of organic farming as a key aim for the new European Commission in his inaugural speech yesterday (10 December).

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Green deal challenge

But a more general issue is looming, namely, the internal consistency of the EU’s current agricultural sector with the principles laid down in the European Green Deal itself.

A recent report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) showed that compulsory greening measures introduced in the 2013 CAP reform, which account for 30% of the direct payments budget, has not delivered.

For EEA’s executive director Hans Bruyninckx, there is overwhelming evidence that agriculture is still the main threat to biodiversity and natural capital in Europe.

A similar ‘compliance check’ should be expected for food trade policy with third countries, as the main principle of the F2F is to shorten as much as possible the entire agri-food chain.

However, reducing the scale of long-distance transport of feed or agricultural products clashes, in principle, with the trade policy put in place by the past European Commission.

For instance, curbing soybean imports from the Americas, as Commissioner Wojciechowski called for, is clearly in contrast with the trade policy toward the US and the Mercosur countries.

EU imports of soy should be reduced, says Agriculture Commissioner

The EU should gradually go in the direction of reducing soy imports from third countries, although not overnight, by supporting the production of protein plants in Europe, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said on Monday (16 December).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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