This week, the Council put forward its negotiating position on the post-2020 reforms needed for the common agricultural policy – constituting, in the words of the German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner, the “most important Council meeting in a decade” as it set out a paradigm shift in European food policy.
The agreement between the member states is based on a commitment to higher standards in environmental protection in farming, while ensuring European farmers remain competitive. The Council’s position is novel as the adoption of climate-friendly practices would grant farmers financial support by means of so-called eco-schemes. However, this instrument would not run during the CAP’s first two transitional years of 2021 and 2022.
Meanwhile the Parliament will debate its position on CAP reform this afternoon. The debate is expected to result in a compromise between the three main political groups: EPP, S&D and Renew Europe who are pushing for obligations on member states to favour payments to smaller and younger farms. According to the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, the Parliament’s position is much more ambitious than the one agreed in the Council among the member states earlier this week, which also suffered from the successful influence exerted by agri-powerhouses such as Italy and Poland.
The draft position from the Parliament has caused considerable anger amongst Green and the left-wing (GUE/NGL) MEPs. They have repeatedly expressed serious concerns over the entire proposal. They, instead, are calling for EU farm subsidies to be used to deliver on the Green Deal, Farm to Fork (F2F) and Biodiversity Strategy, therefore placing climate and farmers at the centre of the reform. Likewise, Commissioner Wojciechowski himself expressed concerns about some of the proposals on the table as they will not allow the EU to fully achieve its objectives, although he acknowledges it as being a good starting point for solutions in the next seven years.
The significant role played by agriculture in delivering on the ambitious climate neutrality targets set out by the European Union will only make the upcoming inter-institutional negotiations more complicated. Essentially, the battle is between environmentalists and farmers. On one side, NGOs and environmental campaigners want to scrap the whole CAP reform proposal, criticising its disregard for climate and biodiversity. On the other, the conservative (EPP) MEPs advocate that the CAP still largely remains a socio-economic program. On top of this, industry is lobbying to avoid any additional burdens on the agricultural sector, already facing the COVID-19 crisis, market disruption and uncertainty over Brexit. In the meantime, associations of young farmers are calling for a budget fit for these challenges and have expressed disappointment with the Council’s agreement as Ministers did not raise their ambitions on the generational renewal objective.
Once the Parliament adopts its position, the inter-institutional negotiations will kick-off, with a view to reaching an overall agreement on the post-2020 CAP reform package. As the approach of the Parliament and Council differs in several aspects, prolonged and difficult negotiations are expected.