ANALYSIS: Proposal for EU countries to have greater autonomy with agriculture
The EU Commission wants to scrap greening from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and create greater autonomy amongst the member states. “Increasing participation of the individual countries is good, but this presumes that the rules are the same for all; Nor must environmental considerations be undermined”, writes Gun Rudquist.
Text: Gun Rudqvist
The EU Commission recently presented a communication addressing the future of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). A communication is the first official document in which the Commission outlines its ambitions and targets. The formal proposed bill will be presented in summer 2018.
CAP shall contribute to a sustainable society
Both agricultural organisations and civil society have already made comments on the communication. The majority of opinions are cautiously positive, however many have questioned how it will be possible to combine greater freedom for the member states with an open and common market where competition is not distorted. There is already a discussion that certain countries have lower environmental, animal protection, and quality requirements that affects the playing field for businesses.
The Commission maintains that CAP should contribute more to the development of a sustainable society in which EU citizens have access to food that is good to eat, safe, healthy, and affordable, without jeopardizing the environment. In the documents, the Commission admits that current agriculture contributes to problems such as decreased biological diversity, contaminated products and environment, and a negative impact on the climate.
The future of direct support - a stumbling block for a new CAP.
The Commission also believes that CAP should be able to provide more for the approximately 40 per cent of the EU budget that is allocated to agriculture through measures such as various subsidies. At the same time, the Commission points out that these subsidies have an important role on the agricultural economy and rural development. The Commission is also positive about direct support and highlights how these payments are needed to maintain economic stability. The Commission does not address the well-known criticism that suggest direct support influences both land prices and environmentally damaging production forms.
The future of direct support will be one of the stumbling blocks on the path to creating a new CAP. Sweden has been a vociferous – but somewhat solitary – advocate for the withdrawal of direct support, and has been backed up by the United Kingdom whose support will now disappear as a result of Brexit.
Increased level of co-determination to member states
So far, the main part of EU agricultural policy (including direct support) has been directed from Brussels. The fundamental idea was to create the same rules and inspection systems for everyone. However, this has created several problems, for example, Greek agriculture cannot be supported in the same way as its Swedish counterpart. Furthermore, the idea has led to lots of red tape.
The Commission is now choosing a different route by opening up for increased subsidiarity, which means that member states will have an increased level of co-determination. The idea is that CAP will be based on a joint strategy with a framework the countries can then fill in themselves. This system already exists in a part of CAP known as the Rural Development Programme, which currently makes up 25 per cent of the total CAP funds that are allocated to the 27 member states.
Extending the system so it applies to all of the EU funds allocated to agriculture is a huge challenge. On the one hand, it is a logical idea since each country has the best knowledge of their national conditions and consequently how to best benefit agriculture and the environment. On the other hand, national autonomy is always a fine balance because the member states have different views on everything from environmental considerations to how regulations are followed, and how to act in a common, open market.
New environmental requirements
Environmental considerations are a central aspect of the discussions on how agricultural support will be formulated after 2020. The Commission is clear that “greening” must cease. “Greening” consists of a range of environmental demands that must be fulfilled if the complete direct support is desired. Greening has only been in place since 2014, but it is already ridiculed by everyone and loved by none. The Commission has long asserted that 30 per cent of CAP direct support is now “green” despite several reports from researchers showing that there are zero positive environmental effects to come from greening.
Yet whilst the Commission proposes that the greening of direct support will be withdrawn, the new CAP wants to enforce basic environmental requirements on future support. Just how this will differ from greening and how it will be implemented in practice remains unclear.
CAP shall contribute to employment opportunities beneficial to migrants
For the first time, there is a clear mention of migration in conjunction with CAP. The Commission wants to see CAP contribute to developing employment opportunities that benefit migrants. The communication also raises the matter of risk. Many member states have long requested that CAP be an insurance against different risks – everything from market price fluctuations to natural disasters. Other countries have protested and argued that risk insurance be managed by the private market. And so the Commission is opening up to more cohesive EU risk management.
Better management of fertilisers
The communication makes no particular mention of sea and water-related issues other than those linked to the UN sustainability goals covering oceans, lakes, and water. The communication as a whole is rather general and mainly discusses targets and ambitions. Therefore, it is surprising that the communication also includes specific requirements for crop fertilisation plans. Of course this is welcomed, as better management of fertilisers is vital for managing over-fertilisation.
There is also emphasis on the role of research and innovation in overcoming all challenges. The importance of research results is highlighted, as is the need for an increase in contact between practice and research. Farm extension services is highlighted as important.
Decreased budget as a result of Brexit
Discussions about the EU Commission’s ideas will intensify during the winter and spring. Once the legislative proposal is presented, negotiations will take place in both the European Parliament and ministerial councils, with the EU budget being created in parallel. There will be many ups and downs and it will be a challenge to create a new CAP by 2020.
All in all, we can be certain that the Commission is now signalling that CAP will be a more multifaceted legislation after 2020 and will cover more things than before without scrapping other parts of the CAP. This could be seen as being a little strange, because it ls likely that the CAP budget will decrease as a result of Brexit, which is putting significant pressure on the EU budget.