Final battlelines drawn as talks over EU’s future farm policy enter home stretch

On Wednesday EU farm ministers and MEPs were due to hold concurrent talks in a bid to thrash out a deal on the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

26 May 2021

After months of negotiations, it is hoped that the new CAP will be agreed at meetings involving the European Commission, Parliament and Member States, known as ‘trilogues’.

The deal could release about €54bn a year in agriculture subsidies between 2023 and 2027 and is equivalent to 30 percent of the total EU budget.

The new deal originates from the Juncker Commission, predating the EU Green Deal, and questions remain over whether proposals for environmental, climate and social “conditionality”, or initiatives such as the eco-scheme, will survive the final round of negotiations.

Agriculture is said to be directly responsible for 10 percent of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on climate action is another issue under discussion.

Other key issues to be resolved this week include how the Commission and Member States will reconcile the CAP deal with the European Green Deal, a flagship policy of the Von der Leyen Commission.

These are some of the issues to be discussed on Wednesday by ministers, MEPs and officials, including EU agriculture Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski.

Portugal, current holder of the EU presidency, wants to conclude agreement on the CAP reform and agricultural payments from 2023-to-2027 before it hands over the reins to Slovenia at the end of June.

Tough talks have been going on for many months and many issues are still open but a Commission source said it is hoped talks can be concluded next week.

“The final CAP deal is unlikely to reflect many of the proposals championed by progressive farmers, trade unions, and environmental groups. Concerns have been raised about the close relationship between ‘Big Ag’ and EU decision makers” Anna Ratcliff, European Climate Foundation

An EPP spokesman said the group wants a deal that “protects the European farming model based on family farms that provides safe and high-quality food with affordable prices while respecting environmental standards.”

An S&D spokesman said, “The EU needs a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable CAP.”

The new CAP seeks to make EU farm policy greener and also address longstanding concerns about corruption and the unequal distribution of funds between large and small farmers.

Last week, climate and environmental experts and the farming community took part in a conference on what the CAP deal means for EU commitments on climate and biodiversity, for farmers, agricultural workers and rural communities and the future of European agriculture.

Campaigners remain sceptical about a satisfactory deal being done, saying payments will still be largely a function of farm size.

Anna Ratcliff, of the European Climate Foundation, told this site, “As a result it will do little to secure fair prices for farmers, support family farms and rural workers, revive rural communities, support a shift towards organic and agroecological farming, cut greenhouse gas emissions, or reverse biodiversity loss. It also risks undermining the EU Green Deal.”

She said, “The final CAP deal is unlikely to reflect many of the proposals championed by progressive farmers, trade unions, and environmental groups. Concerns have been raised about the close relationship between “Big Ag” and EU decision makers.”

She added, “It is also a fact that many European politicians are major recipients of subsidies and have a direct interest in maintaining the status quo.”

Last week’s conference, organised by the European Climate Foundation, was presented with a policy paper produced by a coalition of environmental, climate, trade union and farming organisations.

Called “CAP deal: Unfit for purpose”, the paper outlines what the new deal might mean for farmers, agricultural workers, the environment, climate and the future of EU agriculture.

It says that under the current system approximately 80 percent of direct CAP payments go to 20 percent of primarily large-scale and often intensive and industrial farms.

“This is unlikely to change under the new deal,” the paper says.

There are at least ten million farmers and farm workers in the EU and, says the policy paper, a high proportion are undeclared workers or on short-term contracts that offer “little or no job security.”

“Poverty wages, a lack of adequate social security coverage, deplorable health and safety standards, and unsanitary housing remain challenges,” it adds.

The paper said, “With a week left to go, there is still a small chance for the negotiators to make incremental improvements. However, it is very unlikely that the final CAP deal will adequately address the environmental and social challenges facing European agriculture and will only delay the inevitable transition to a more just and sustainable food system.”

It adds, “The deal expected next week marks the end of three years of wrangling at EU level. But it is not the end of the reform process: Member States will now have to develop national CAP plans to determine the exact rules and incentives available to their farmers from 2023.”

The paper, seen by this site, concludes, “EU agriculture faces multiple crises – climate, biodiversity, health, and social – that can no longer be ignored.”

“More and more farmers, agricultural workers, and consumers are demanding a food and agricultural system that delivers societal, environmental and climate benefits. Many positive examples of this kind of system exist throughout the EU. It is time for politicians to catch up.”

Separately, on Thursday Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee will discuss a study on 'The Largest 50 beneficiaries in each EU Member State of CAP and Cohesion Funds prepared at the request of this committee.

The EPP Group has called for triggering the new EU budget protection conditionality for the first time for the Czech Government and to halt the further disbursement of funds.

This follows what it calls the “devastating verdict” of the final audit of the conflicts of interest of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš by the Commission, which concluded that Babiš was the beneficial owner of Agrofert and “is therefore breaching the Czech Conflict of Interest Act.”

An EPP spokesman said, “His position as Prime Minister provides him with the possibility to exercise influence on the allocation of EU funds in the Czech Republic. As such, he is breaching the EU’s Financial Regulation.”

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