Editor’s note: This text is a guest column. All opinions and other standpoints are the author's.
Competitive and eco-friendly agriculture is absolutely essential for the Baltic Sea
“Having a competitive agricultural sector and funding earmarked for the environment and climate are the most important elements of the new agricultural reform,” writes Fredrick Federley (Centre Party Sweden) in a guest column.
On 2 June 2018, the European Commission presented their proposal for a new European agricultural policy for 2021 to 2027. The aim of the EU's agricultural policy is to guarantee food production in Europe now and in the future.
Thus, it is one of the most important policies in the European Union.
Without the food produced by farmers, including our farmers in Sweden, the human population would not survive. Agriculture therefore has every opportunity to be a prosperous sector. However, the opposite is the case and today's agricultural sector is completely reliant on public support and funding. This situation has to change.
Today's agricultural budget represents approximately 40 percent of total EU expenses. Every year, around SEK 20 billion is paid in support to Swedish farmers. The most important task of the upcoming reform is to ensure that the correct action is taken to generate a competitive sector. It is also important to earmark funding to improve the environment and climate issues. This is of particular importance in the Baltic Sea region, where the agricultural sector has an important role to play in improving the environment.
farmers should be more competitive instead of dependent on funding
The European Commission’s proposal includes a relatively comprehensive reduction of agricultural support. The Commission believes that their proposal will provide a simplified and more modern agricultural policy. However, it will be difficult to implement such significant reductions in agricultural funding, particularly as these changes have not been combined with sufficient measures to increase competitiveness in the agricultural policy.
In my mind, it is not rational for European politics to be based more on farmers being dependent on funding than on competitiveness. If the EU’s agricultural budget is to be reduced in the long term, we need to find a different direction moving forward.
First and foremost, we need to do more to obtain equal conditions for farming throughout the EU. Today, the differences in tax and regulatory burdens between the member states are a problem. I believe that the EU needs to streamline taxation levels and improve animal protection standards in all member states.
In terms of competitiveness, action must also be taken to make it easier for consumers to make well-founded choices when buying food. Sweden has a high quality of food produce, and the new agricultural policy must make it simpler to provide the customer with information on this. I therefore believe that we need EU-wide labelling and to enable improvements to labelling showing source.
In the Baltic Proper, which is the part of the Baltic Sea most impacted by eutrophication, algal blooms and oxygen depletion on the seabed, almost half of the nutrients in the sea come from agriculture. Agriculture will, thus, have to play a decisive role in remedying this situation. Farmers should receive payment for the important work they do to protect biodiversity and nature and for taking responsibility for climate issues. It is, therefore, positive to read that the European Commission has proposed allocating 40 percent of the agricultural budget to action to improve the environment and climate issues – not a minute too soon.
It is completely unreasonable to continue following the same political course as before; a course that makes farmers dependent on funding when they are producing something that is completely vital for us humans. If we succeed in making agriculture more competitive and adapt funding so that it supports sustainable agriculture, this will provide major gains for both Sweden’s farmers and the Baltic Sea.
Fredrick Federley is a member of the Centre Party in Sweden, is the party's Member of the European Parliament and is the Second Vice Chairman of the Party. He is also group leader for the liberals on the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, and is a deputy on both the European Parliament Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.
Photo: Hamid Sarabi