Upcoming election could shake up Germany’s stance on gene editing, CAP funding

The parties competing in Germany's upcoming federal elections take different stances on key agricultural policy issues.

As the campaign for Germany’s 26 September federal elections approaches crunch time, EURACTIV Germany took a look at what the elections could mean for key agricultural policy issues – from scrapping farmers’ direct payments to the use of new genomic techniques.

Under current Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner, who comes from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, Germany has taken a relatively conservative stance in the EU Council on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and openness towards new genomic techniques. 

After the elections, however, much of this could change, depending on which party will nab the top spot and who will get the agricultural ministry in a possible coalition.

According to current polls, a coalition led by the Social Democrats (SPD), with the Greens and the Liberals as junior partners, for example, would be possible.

Future CAP

While the fate of the 2023-2027 CAP reform is very nearly sealed, a win for the Greens, who are seen as likely to try for the agricultural ministry, could shake up the next CAP reform.

The party wants to end CAP direct payments and replace them with a “public goods premium” that remunerates services of public interest, according to their party programme. 

Likewise, the SPD also want to move away from area-based direct payments.

An SPD spokesperson also said that shifting CAP funds from the first to the second pillar, geared towards promoting rural development and environmental protection, was key in order to finance climate measures.

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The EU’s agricultural subsidies should be restructured to achieve environment and climate goals, including a phase out of direct payments and the reduction of livestock, according to a milestone report from the German commission on the future of agriculture. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Climate-friendly agriculture

The Greens also want to cut agriculture’s carbon emissions “as much as possible”, for example by minimising the use of fertilisers and reducing the amount of livestock, a party spokesperson told EURACTIV.

The liberal FDP, on the other hand, puts a focus on climate change adaptation. 

“We need to enable businesses (…) to better prepare for droughts and other consequences of climate change through tax-free risk compensation reserves,” a spokesperson said. 

This way, farmers could gain independence from state-funded emergency programmes, the spokesperson added.

For Klöckner’s CDU/CSU, “as part of the open, natural system, agricultural production cannot be completely carbon neutral”. Moreover, a spokesperson said the sector’s particular role in ensuring food security should be taken into account when talking about reducing emissions.

Against this backdrop, the reduction target of 54 million tonnes of greenhouse gas equivalent until the end of the decade that the government has set in its recent climate law was “a very ambitious target,” they added.

Discord on new genomic techniques

To make agriculture more climate and environmentally friendly, both CDU/CSU and FDP also see new genomic techniques (NGTs) as an opportunity that should be harnessed. “For the sustainable production of the future, we need openness for new technologies,” the Liberals said.

Both parties, therefore, call for a reworking of the EU’s legal framework on GMOs to ease restrictions for the use of certain NGTs. The European Commission is currently considering presenting new legislative proposals that would target selected NGTs and also backed the use of NGTs again in a strategy paper released on Wednesday (8 September).

However, gene editing could prove contentious in any coalition talks involving the Greens, who are running on a decidedly anti-GMO platform and, although there have recently been some dissenting voices, the party appears unlikely to budge on the issue. 

The SPD, too, took a critical stance on NGTs but might be less insistent on the issue than the Greens.

German Greens: The 'X' factor in EU's debate on new genomic techniques

With the Greens increasingly likely to hold sway in the future German government after the 26 September election, EURACTIV took stock of the party’s position on gene-editing, which could prove to be a turning point for Germany’s position and the ongoing debate in the EU.

Livestock farming transition

The Greens are also unlikely to budge easily on issues of livestock farming, and they have been fierce critics of the current government’s policies. 

The party’s agricultural spokesperson, Renate Künast, told EURACTIV that, for her, “the current government’s track record on animal welfare is zero”.

In their programme, apart from a reduction of livestock, the Greens also call for mandatory animal welfare labelling. 

This could be an explosive issue vis-à-vis the CDU/CSU, as animal welfare labelling had already proven contentious during the current legislature. 

While Klöckner had tried to push for a voluntary labelling system, her efforts failed as the SPD refused to support anything other than a mandatory label.

At the same time, however, the Conservatives’ programme calls for an EU-wide mandatory labelling system, something that Klöckner had put on the agenda of the Council, but without prompting EU action.

Most parties also agree that organic farming should be promoted further. However, the SPD and the Greens want to raise the national organic target from currently 25% to 35% by 2030. 

The Farm-to-Fork strategy, the EU’s food flagship policy, sets an EU-wide target of a 25% share of organic farming until 2030, while the current German government has set a national goal of 20%. 

The Liberals are the only party who do not see “any reason” to actively support organic farming.

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[Edited by Natasha Foote/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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