Agri food co-ops and environmental organisations clash on EU CAP reform proposals

Copa-Cogeca says MEPs have adopted a 'responsible' position – but climate groups disagree

On 23 October the European Parliament adopted its position on the post-2022 EU farm policy reform. Launched in 1962, the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has undergone a series of changes, which have seen its share of the EU budget reduce from 73% in 1985 to 34.5% in 2020.

The debate usually centres on how much the CAP should be allocated from the EU budget. Yet this time climate change considerations are also generating tensions between environmental organisations and agri food apexes, included those representing agri food co-ops.

Key points adopted in the Parliament’s position include a provision to dedicate at least 35% of the rural development budget to all types of environmental and climate-related measures. At least 30% of the direct payments budget should go to eco-schemes, which would be voluntary but could increase farmers’ income, added the MEPs.

The Parliament wants member states to set up farm advisory services in every member state and allocate at least 30% of their EU-sponsored funding to help farmers fight climate change, manage natural resources sustainably and protect biodiversity. They call on member states to encourage farmers to dedicate 10% of their land to landscaping that is beneficial to biodiversity, such as hedges, non-productive trees, and ponds.

In addition, MEPs voted to progressively reduce annual direct payments to farmers above €60,000 (£54,400) and cap them at €100,000 (£90,665). However, they say farmers could be allowed to deduct 50% of agriculture-related salaries from the total amount before reduction. At least 6% of national direct payments should be used to support small and medium-sized farms but if more than 12% is used, the capping should become voluntary, MEPs said.

The Parliament would also like to see EU states use at least 4% of their direct payments budgets to support young farmers. Further support could be granted from the rural development funding where young farmers’ investments could be prioritised, MEPs added. They also rejected all proposals to reserve meat-related names for products containing meat.

The Parliament voted to increase sanctions for those who repeatedly fail to comply with EU requirements such as those on the environment and animal welfare from 5% of their entitlements to 10%.

What has been the response of agri food co-ops?

In response to the EU Parliament’s agreed position, Copa-Cogeca, the voice of European farmers and agri co-ops, said that the CAP proposal “is not a greenwashing exercise” and that MEPs have assumed “a responsible position that will soon allow farmers to work within a clear framework and provide the stability necessary for them to plan ahead, invest and respond to societal demands while earning a living for themselves and their families”.

The apex says that agri-food co-ops would have to implement a series of changes under the Parliament’s proposal, including allocating 30% of their support to eco-schemes and dedicating 10% of arable land to non-productive landscape elements that are beneficial to biodiversity.

Co-ops will also have to take a series of measures without further support from the EU, including maintaining permanent grassland on national, regional, sub-regional and holding levels with a maximum variation of 5%, effectively protecting wetlands and peatlands; implementing crop rotation without consideration of farm size, permanent crops and crops grown underwater; and implementing new statutory management requirements for water policy, for animal diseases and for sustainable use of pesticides.

“How can anyone who has real in-the-field experience say that this is nothing, that this is upholding the status quo?” asked a Copa-Cogeca spokesperson. “If this CAP had not been supported by the European Parliament, no progress would have been made in the years to come! In spite of all the criticism, in spite of the complexity brought about by climate change, in spite of the low incomes, in spite of the severe impacts of Covid-19 and the upcoming Brexit deal – at the end of the day the reality is that farmers are constantly increasing their efforts.

“With all due respect for certain activists, most of which have never experienced the reality of farming on the ground, we will continue to defend with determination a transition that reconciles agricultural production and environmental conservation for millions of EU farmers. The messages and the incredible amount of misinformation on social media and in the press against the farming community have (deliberately) overstepped many limits, and we will respond to them in due time.”

New CAP plans not ambitious enough, say environmental groups

However environmental groups were quick to criticise the Parliament’s position for not being ambitious enough.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg joined a campaign launched by 100 young climate activists calling on the EU to Withdraw the CAP.

She tweeted: “This week the European Parliament voted for a new 7yr Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that will be disastrous for climate, biodiversity and sustainable farming. But it’s not over yet. Sign the open letter demanding the @EU_Commission to #WithdrawTheCAP”

MEPs voted against an emissions-reduction target for agriculture of 30% while lifting a ban on converting grasslands in biodiversity-rich nature-protected areas.

Greenpeace is also calling on the European Commission to withdraw its proposal for the common agricultural policy, restarting the legislative process.

Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: “The EU farm plan, as it stands, represents only the interests of the biggest industrial producers and the richest land-owners.” Greenpeace claims the farming policy approved by the European Parliament is “not in line with the goals of the European Green Deal, nor the EU’s ‘farm to fork’ food plan and biodiversity strategy” published earlier this year.

What happens next?

With the Council having already agreed its position, discussions between the Parliament and EU ministers will commence soon with the aim of reaching an agreement on a final deal by the end of the year.

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