Why the new CAP will be worse for the climate and farmers

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

A farmer on a tractor sprays farmland near Neuharlingersiel, northern Germany, on 15 June 2018 [EPA-EFE/MAURITZ ANTIN]

With €365 billion between 2021-2027 the Common Agricultural Policy will continue to represent the second biggest budget of the EU. The CAP’s objectives remain largely unchanged since 1962 and need to be radically reviewed if we want them to reflect social demands and the finite environmental limits, write a group of Green MEPs.

Maria Heubuch, Martin Hausling, Thomas Waitz, José Bové and Bart Staes are members of the European Parliament for the Greens – European Free Alliance.

Every year in average 114 euro per EU-citizen are spent for the CAP. The Greens have just started a campaign asking citizens what they want to see as priorities for the upcoming CAP. Already 6000 people from all around the EU have answered, with most of them calling for a CAP that better protects climate and small farmers.

Given the growing controversy over the impact of industrial farming on the environment and biodiversity, the central question remains: what is the point of spending CAP-billions if bees, insects and farmers alike are disappearing in a rapid pace through industrial farming practices?

With a vote planned in the Agriculture Committee on the 2nd of April, we have now a pretty clear – and disappointing – image of where the CAP reform is going. As Greens we stand for a CAP that does its fair share to achieve the Paris climate-goals and consider all beneficiaries without discrimination. Unfortunately, these urgencies do not seem to have reached the members of the agriculture committee.

The impact of farming on climate change and the environment has been a major debate these last years. The European Commission itself states that the current CAP has not had a positive impact in making farming practices more sustainable.

n its reform proposal it therefore introduces “eco-schemes” that would reward farmers who voluntarily adopt certain practices beneficial to the climate and the environment, but without proposing any budget ring-fencing dedicated to them, leaving this strategic choice to member states.

Proposing a meagre 20% of the direct payments for these voluntary eco-schemes, also the current text of the agriculture committee deletes or weakens many elements of the mandatory environmental measures known as “conditionality”, touching on climate change mitigation as, for example, the conservation of permanent grasslands, peat lands and natural areas on the farm.

Additionally, the climate expenditure accounting mechanism is completely flawed. The proposal of the European Commission, which the EP wishes to support, automatically counts 40% of CAP direct payments as climate expenditure. This blank cheque approach weakens the EU’s overall climate ambition.

CAP and discrimination

The current CAP and its hectare-based system means: farmers get more money if they own more land. Today, 20% of the recipients receive 80% of the CAP’s envelope. This clearly benefits the biggest farms over the more numerous small and medium-sized ones.

Limiting the amount of money received by a single farmer would ensure a better use of public money and the redistribution of the saved amounts to smaller structures. This idea, present in the Commission’s draft proposal, has been weakened by MEPs to the point of losing all interest:  a very generous threshold of 100 000 €, with many exemptions.

Not only is the text on the table insufficient to support small farms, it is undermined by proposal supported by most of the political groups setting up a minimum area under which a farmer would not be able to request EU subsidies – effectively shutting the smallest farmers in the EU out of the CAP entirely.

Another glaring fairness issue in the common agriculture policy concerns several Central and Eastern European member states, which acceded to the EU in 2004, and benefit from far less CAP money than the older Western European members.

Farmers in these countries likewise receive less money for the same area. Untenable discrimination between EU citizens, that could be solved by shifting progressively part of the budget from the “richest” countries to the “poorest”.

But several political groups would rather keep the status quo in favour of western EU farmers and are blocking all discussions on the issue. This risks fuelling more euro-scepticism in the eastern member states.

Millions for wine exports

The CAP is not only about subsidies for farmers: in some specific sectors, it also finances measures aimed at boosting sales, such as promotion campaigns. In some cases – wine, for example – the situation is clearly approaching an abuse of public money.

Between 2009 and 2018, more than 1.4bn € of taxpayers’ money was spent on promotion of wine, sparking well deserved criticism by the press and civil society organisations.

Indeed, wine brands can currently get up to 50% of their promotion costs covered by the CAP, including public relations, participation in international fairs and advertisement campaigns. Big companies are the biggest beneficiaries of these subsidies – the Champagne brands Mumm and Perrier Jouët received 6.1 million € of public money in just one year. This takes away funds that could otherwise go to small producers, and is impossible to justify to EU taxpayers.

N°1 aim: jobs for the countryside  

Fortunately, the CAP is not only paying farmers in function of the surfaces of their farms. The so-called “second pillar” of the CAP is used to finance for example agri-environmental measures, conversion to and maintaining organic farming, rural development, etc.

In an ideal world, this part of the CAP budget would be growing, whereas the so-called “1st pillar” would be decreasing. Alas, in its proposal, the European Commission proposes to reduce the rural development budget by a third, while making it possible for Member States to shift money away from rural development into the first pillar.

We remain convinced of the need for a strong, climate friendly and well-funded CAP – the EU needs numerous, fairly paid farmers who can provide food for a growing EU-population. In a sustainable way.

But the direction of the current text that will be voted on April 2 is undermining the justification for the use of such a large budget. Because it will not ensure a good livelihood for farmers and not encourage improved nature-friendly farming.

As there is no plan to vote the EP’s position at plenary level during this legislature, the discussions will be taken over by the newly elected MEPs this autumn, leaving the possibility for EU citizens to express their choices on the matter through their vote in May.

The Greens/EFA group will vote to reject the European Commission’s proposal on the CAP reform (report on Strategic Plans). And in the newly elected Parliament we will continue to fight for a fairer, more ecological common agriculture policy.

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