Last Friday, the European Parliament adopted its position on the reform of the CAP Common Agricultural Policy post-2022, which will now be negotiated with the EU Council made up of representatives of the 27 member states. The Parliament and the Council have taken two years to adopt their positions in regard to the CAP reform proposal made by the European Commission in 2018.
The CAP has historically been one of the largest items of EU budget spending, although in recent years its weight has decreased slightly: today, 1 in 3 euros of the European budget is still used to finance agriculture (€58.12bn). It is therefore one of the EU’s flagship policies, and is essential to maintain the competitiveness and diversity of a primary sector that has in just 20 years lost half of its crop and livestock farmers across the EU.
Committing to environmentally friendly agriculture
The most discordant issue in the negotiations on the new CAP has been the eco-schemes, or ecological regimes, a new complementary aid that will prioritize agricultural practices that respect the climate and the environment, given that intensive agriculture is considered one of the major causes of biodiversity loss and soil degradation in Europe.
Our parliamentary group, the Greens/EFA, called for 50% of direct aid to be conditional on the implementation of more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, that such aid be well defined and common EU-wide, and that it be mandatory and not voluntary, with the aim of enhancing the role of the primary sector in the ecological transition and in compliance with the Green Deal and the Climate Pact objectives.
However, the position taken by the European Parliament is that at least 30% of direct payments—direct income support for farmers—should be reserved for organic schemes. That is, farmers are guaranteed 70% of direct aid, and the rest is conditional on practices that are beneficial for sustainability and biodiversity. These ecological practices are to be defined by each state, jeopardizing EU-wide coherence while generating competition between states in a race to the bottom with ever-diminishing ecological conditionality requirements.
Our group also insisted on the need to introduce all the sustainability goals set in the new EU Farm to Fork strategy into the CAP subsidies. In this strategy, the Commission has made ambitious commitments, such as a 50% reduction in the use of pesticides by 2030, a reduction in the use of fertilizers by at least 20%, and a 25% increase in arable land devoted to ecological agriculture by 2030. Unfortunately however, these commitments have not been transferred to the CAP as binding targets.
Still more power for the states and for big producers
Furthermore, as per the new CAP proposals, it will be up to the states to approve the strategic plans and to send them to Brussels for evaluation and control, giving them a wide berth for manoeuvrer. This “renationalization” of the CAP may well go against the agricultural interests of the territories of the Catalan Countries, which have primary sectors with their own differentiated characteristics. As so often happens in this and many other sectors, when the Spanish state defends farmers’ interests, it does so thinking of models and interests that are most definitely not representative of the majority in our country. Given that the Catalan Generalitat government has exclusive powers in agriculture, it should be able to approve its own strategic plan and defend it directly in Brussels.
Another issue on which much of the debate has focused is the limitation of the amount of direct aid. The European Parliament is committed to progressively reducing the ceiling for direct payments to farmers who receive over €60,000 a year, with a cap of €100,000 a year. Our proposal was to set the limit at €60,000. In practice, this has very little impact on Catalan farmers since there are very few recipients who accumulate that much CAP aid, while many small farmers receive ridiculous amounts. That is, while large spreads receive most of the funds, smaller farmers who guarantee diversity in production and who truly manage the upkeep of the territory, are marginalized by the logic of the markets and price pressure. The new draft of the CAP does very little to correct this situation.
Another of the CAP’s shortcomings is the fact that aid is disconnected from production and creates differences between producers of the same crops because of historical references, so that for the same activity there are those who collect and others who don’t. This is related to the controversial historic entitlements, which are the basis for calculating current subsidies, and the new draft of the CAP does not address this.
At Esquerra, we are committed to fair distribution of subsidies that are more in line with the real world, with greater support for small and family farms, fairer working conditions, greater alignment of the CAP with ecological transition policies, greater support for technological digitalisation, and for young and women farmers, and the promotion of shorter circuits in order to progress towards greater food sovereignty. But now that we are in the final stretch of the negotiations, everything seems to indicate that CAP reform will be a missed opportunity, since there could have been considerable changes, but there will in fact be very few.