One of the key objectives of the German Council Presidency has thus been achieved. After two days of in-tense negotiations, the Council adopted its “general approach” on Tuesday night. This approach is the Council’s mandate to enter into trilogue negotiations on the CAP re-form with the European Parliament and the Commission.
With the adoption of the German Presidency’s proposal, clear guidelines will, for the first time, be defined for environmental protection under the CAP. The member states have committed to applying high standards to the so-called “Green Architecture”, i.e. the regulations aimed at supporting services rendered by the agricultural sector in the fields of environmental conservation and climate change mitigation. Furthermore, any direct payment will be made contingent on clearly defined conditions in the future. Subsidies will only be granted if requirements for greater sustainability are met. This means that farmers will only receive benefits if they render services in return. Examples include the conservation of permanent grassland, the protection of wetlands, the removal of land from production to promote biodiversity, or crop rotation to ensure greater variety in the fields. Although the high standard of environmental services provided for in the German proposal was controversial among the member states, Federal Minister Julia Klöckner finally succeeded in receiving endorsement for it in the negotiations.
Key aspects of the Agriculture Council’s agreement on the CAP
- Mandatory eco-schemes under the first pillar, which the Federal Minister insisted on in the negotiations, are the most important cornerstone. They will make a measurable contribution to achieving environmental protection and climate mitigation goals.
- Moreover, the member states will be required to allocate a mandatory minimum budget of 20 percent of the direct payments to the eco-schemes. In the case of Germany, this equals an amount of almost one billion euro per year. With this minimum budget, the Presidency by far exceeded the Commission’s proposal.
- To alleviate the concerns expressed by some member states that financial re-sources might be forfeited if farmers’ demand for the new instrument is insufficient, a two-year pilot phase has been agreed as part of the compromise. During this period, unused funds may be spent for other purposes provided that all options for reallocating them within the scope of the eco-schemes have been exhausted.
Within the scope of conditionality, all member states of the GAEC 9 (standard no. 9 for keeping land in a good agricultural and environmental condition) are free to decide how they will implement the higher ambitions for environmental protection and climate change mitigation.
- Option 1: Three percent of the arable land must be used for exclusively non-productive areas and features (set-aside).
- Option 2: A proportion of at least five percent must be reserved for non-productive areas and features, whereas the land may also be used for cultivating catch crops and nitrogen-fixing plants without application of pesticides.
Capping and degression
- Capping is only possible at an amount of 100,000 euro.
- In addition, degression can be applied on a voluntary basis.
- Where the basic premium amounts to 60,000 euro or over, member states may introduce gradually increasing reduction percentages for that premium to be applied to each beneficiary.
- Degression can also be opted for if basic premiums exceed 100,000 euro.
German Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner:
The agreement we have reached marks a milestone for the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe – it is a change of system. I am delighted that, under our Council Presidency, we have succeeded in uniting Europe on such a central issue. In spite of the different agricultural structures of the 27 member states, we have together taken a landmark decision. For the first time, we are introducing a standard for environmental and climate protection that is equally binding for all countries. We maintained this course during the negotiations and made this point our common thread. This is a fundamental step towards greater sustainability, fairness and equal conditions of competition within the EU.
However, one thing is certain: if we want to preserve regional agricultural production, we must also reward farmers for complying with stricter requirements. Income security and stability of yields are not a minor matter if we want to avoid becoming more and more reliant on food imports. Therefore, we have attached great importance to ensuring that the requirements will be practice-oriented and feasible and that any additional costs incurred will be offset. We want to show that higher ambitions for environmental protection and climate change mitigation can go hand in hand with ensuring food security and the necessary income support for farms. This is a great opportunity for agricultural holdings because we are thus preserving the basis for competitive food production in the EU.