Remember when I posted about the upcoming European Parliament’s vote on its position on the Common Agricultural Policy reform 2014 – 2020? Well, the voting happened yesterday and the results are in – it seems like the Parliament walked a middle way between the proposals of its Agricultural Committee and environmentalists’ demands.
To simplify the task of analyzing what is a massive policy document, let’s zero in on the demands and issues of concern we looked at last time and how they were dealt with:
1. ENSURE all farmers undertake good farming practices (so-called ‘greening’), respecting the environment in return for CAP direct subsidies.
Verdict: meh. They kept the threshold for compliance at 10 ha – but the EU has an average farm size of 12 ha and around 80% of farms are smaller than 10 ha. On the other hand, 87% of the utilized agricultural area belongs to farms that are larger than 10 ha, and you could argue that it is especially the larger farms that engage in most monocropping and have the most deleterious impacts on the environment.
Also, only 30% of the payments hinge on compliance with the environmental criteria – crop rotation, maintaining permanent pasture and grassland and creating “ecologically focused areas”. Furthermore, the Parliament decreased the minimum for ecological focus areas, which environmentalists demanded to be 10% and the Commission suggested should be 7% of the farmers’ arable land, to 3%, to be moved up to 5% by 2016. Finally, farms between 10 and 30 ha only need to rotate two crops, not three, as was originally suggested.
However, the Parliament rejected the AGRI committee’s proposal that farms could use “equivalent” measures to meet the greening requirements, instead returning back to the Commission’s definitions.
2. REJECT illegal double payments, proposed by the AGRI Committee, which would pay farmers twice for carrying out the same activity.
Verdict: Yay! The Parliament voted down double payments.
3. REINTRODUCE requirements for farmers to comply with EU laws on the environment, food safety, animal and public health when receiving EU subsidies.
Verdict: Yay? This BBC article said about cross-compliance that “they also agreed that farmers who break laws on, say, hormones or pollution, should lose some of their subsidies as a consequence.” According to this German article, the “majority” of cross-compliance procedures were reintroduced. But some already existing Directives, such as the Water Framework Directive and Birds and Habitats Directives, were left out of being tied to cross-compliance, though they represent official EU policy.
4. SUPPORT High Nature Value and organic farming systems by prioritising these sustainable farming systems, for example through specific thematic sub-programmes.
Verdict: Yay? On its website, the Parliament explains that the ceiling on EU co-financing of agri-environmental and climate measures was raised by 5%, making less-developed and outermost regions eligible for 90% of co-financing of such measures; other regions would be eligible for 55% of costs co-financed by the EU.
Also, at least 25% of the total spending earmarked for rural development programmes would have to be reserved for agri-environmental and climate measures and support for organic farming.
Overall verdict: Environmental groups agree that the Parliament defused the worst proposals by the AGRI committee in terms of sustainability and avoided making a step backward, but many feel that a key opportunity has been missed to radically transform EU agricultural policy in the future. According to Trees Robijns, the agriculture policy officer at BirdLife Europe (an NGO which spearheaded the environmental civil society coalition):
The European Parliament has defused some of the worst counter reform proposals that came out of the agriculture committee, but has managed only partial damage-control. The text coming out of the Parliament today would still leave us with a dysfunctional CAP that does not address the urgent crisis in the countryside and does not justify 40% of the EU budget being spent on the CAP.
On the other hand, farmers’ organizations welcomed the flexibility in the adoption of measures. Gerd Sonnleitner, president of the Copa farm organisation, stressed: “The decision today, which includes measures which are more practical for farmers to apply, is a good basis to work on and marks a key step forward in the EU decision process.”
Now, negotiations between the European Commission, Parliament and the Council of Ministers are scheduled to start to hammer down the details of the reform, with an agreement to be expected in June or July.
What do you think? Did the Parliament take the best out of both worlds or miss the possibility to move to a truly sustainable agricultural system in the next years?
Bonus: Find here a good overview of what exactly the Parliament voted on in its marathon session (with 350 tabled amendments!).