The latest reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been a long time coming, with the European Commission submitting its proposals in June 2018, following a delay of eight months.
This made it impossible for Parliament to finalise its part during the last legislature, pushing it to the current one. A fact addressed by Ulrike Müller (DE, Renew), one of the three rapporteurs for the various aspects of the reform from the Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committee during the joint plenary debate on Tuesday morning.
Too much time had been lost on the urgent task to make the CAP fit for Europe’s ambitious Green Deal challenges, the Bavarian legislator argued, urging the Commission to table the proposals for the next review in time.
However, she still deemed the current result to be positive, announcing that she and her group would vote for the package.
“Rural areas, respecting climate conditions and sustainable environmental policies in farming are a priority”, Müller claimed, concluding that “this is more than a step in the right direction for a performance based, more transparent and more effective agricultural policy in Europe”.
Equally, the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP, showed a united front in favour.
“This is more than a step in the right direction for a performance based, more transparent and more effective agricultural policy in Europe” Ulrike Müller MEP (DE, Renew)
Their rapporteur, Peter Jahr, urged MEPs to support what he called “innovative” reform as it was “more environmentally friendly, and it is moving support from larger farmers to smaller farmers”.
The reform’s crucial innovation, the German MEP argued, was its new system of monitoring the progress of its implementation:
“The Member States will have to calculate how and whether the CAP is developing”, said Jahr, adding,” We will have actual statistical evidence. There are 33 output indicators that are subject to sanctions. So, we don't need any justification from the European Court of Auditors or any agricultural experts, we can actually measure the success of the CAP ourselves.”
As the only leader of a political group to take the floor - as he was quick to point out himself - Manfred Weber, called his centre-right EPP Group the “true farmers’ party” and assured the house of his group’s full support.
Strong opposition to the proposed reform came from the Greens/EFA Group and some delegations within the S&D Group, notably the German one.
The Greens had called to “vote down” the package in a social media campaign before the plenary session, and they remained steadfast during the debate.
“[This is] a dark day for European climate and environmental policies, as well as a dark day also for Europe’s farmers” Martin Häusling MEP (DE, Greens/EFA)
Shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA Group, Martin Häusling, an organic farmer in his former life, called the debate and vote “a dark day for European climate and environmental policies, as well as a dark day also for Europe’s farmers”.
“Nothing really changes”, the veteran German agriculture expert argued, “everything continues as before, with new headlines but no substantial changes.”
His Luxembourgish colleague Tilly Metz, shadow on another part of the extensive package, argued that the reform was in direct contradiction with the EU’s flagship Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity strategies agreed recently, and that it “would be absurd to support both” them and the CAP.
The S&D Group’s representative among the trio of rapporteurs, Eric Andrieu, stressed the progress achieved on his aspect, the economic dimension of the CAP:
“It constitutes a significant step forward for the sector, farmers and for consumers. For the first time, for more than 30 years, CAP reform has led to greater market regulation rather than deregulation”.
But, overall, the French Socialist was more critical, as the CAP funding allocations “will be continuing along the same lines as in the past”. Having failed to take into account producers’ requests, price development and farmers’ income, he argued that the budget “doesn't make sense in economic terms, it doesn't make sense in budgetary terms and it doesn't make sense in environmental or social terms”.
Andrieu concluded that “we need a true reform of agriculture. It's not fit for purpose for the challenges of the 21st century”.
“[This] constitutes a significant step forward for the sector, farmers and for consumers. For the first time, for more than 30 years, CAP reform has led to greater market regulation rather than deregulation” Eric Andrieu MEP (FR, S&D)
His German colleague Maria Noichl, shadow on her fellow countryman Jahr’s report, while also acknowledging some positives, declared that, the package as a whole should be rejected, and not least because of the way it had been negotiated:
“It’s humiliating sitting in those negotiations where the Council representatives can just look down on you and say ‘no’. So, today’s no vote is also one against how undemocratically politics are practiced here.”
But not all critics drew the same conclusions about the shortcomings of the package. The Left Group’s Luke Ming Flanagan admitted defeat initially: “Sadly, we’ve let everyone down, and we could have done so, so much better”.
But continued: “Will I vote against this CAP? No, I won’t, because I think I would be letting people down again if I did that because reverting to the status quo would be an awful lot worse.”
In the end, all three reports were adopted in the crucial provisional agreements vote with around 480 members voting for, and between 130 and 180 members voting against them.
The package will still have to be adopted by Council, before the Commission can adopt the three regulations in early December, paving the way for the subsequent adoption of the Commission’s delegated and implementing acts needed by Member States to finalise their national CAP strategic plans and deliver them to the Commission the end of the year.
After a process of approval of all 27 plans, the new CAP is expected to be in place as of 2023.