CAP: arduous negotiations finally deliver EU farm policy

Norbert Lins MEP
Tractors are seen outside of EU Commission Headquarters as farmers take part in a demonstration in Brussels, Belgium on Jan. 29, 2018.

Brussels (Brussels Morning) On 23 November 2021, the European Parliament adopted the legislative proposals of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the culmination of three-and-a-half years of tough negotiations with the European Council and the European Commission. The Council followed with the approval on 2 December 2021.

The new CAP comprises three dossiers: the Horizontal Regulation on the financing, management, and monitoring of the CAP (FMM), the Strategic Plan Regulation (SPR), and the Regulation on a Common Market Organisation for agricultural products (CMO).

All three reports were negotiated as a package until the very end. After long negotiations, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament adopted their respective negotiating positions almost simultaneously in October 2020. The inter-institutional negotiations, better-known as “the trialogues”, began directly afterward with the German Council Presidency.

In total, there were 25 trialogues covering all three files, including four super-trialogues taking the three dossiers together, plus more than 100 technical-level meetings. The final trialogue took place on 24 and 25 June 2021, where, after 16 hours of negotiations, an agreement was reached with the Portuguese Presidency.

That agreement centered on an ambitious, greener, fairer and simpler reform, paving the way for a more sustainable and targeted agriculture. It combines income and food security, environmental and climate protection and a new social dimension, all of which serve to strengthen rural areas and to offer our farmers good prospects for the future. 

The EP has succeeded in ensuring that 25% of the funds of the first pillar should be ring-fenced for so-called eco-schemes. Initially, the Commission had not specified a percentage. The EP has ensured that there is a common list of areas for eco-schemes defined at EU level to further boost the common character of the CAP. Thanks to the EP initiative, the “enhanced conditionality” (previous greening and cross-compliance under stricter rules) fully deserves its name. The initiative ensured that there is no weakening of existing standards and that the requirements in many areas will continue to rise. The EP has implemented several mechanisms to make sure that the new Green Deal legislation is quickly taken into account.

The “New Delivery Model” marks a shift from previous reforms. The CAP will take a closer look at performance. The European Parliament has insisted that the objectives of the CAP are measured with exacting and targeted indicators, especially when it comes to environment and climate.

One of the biggest achievements is the introduction of a social conditionality clause, which did not exist previously in the CAP. At the EP’s initiative, the institutions agreed to a social dimension mechanism provision within the SPR, which calls for CAP beneficiaries to be subject to an administrative penalty if they fail to comply with the requirements spelled out in employment and health and safety directives.

Thanks to a fair compromise reached with the Council, the redistribution of income support is to be mandatory. Member states will redistribute at least 10% of their direct payments for the benefit of smaller farms, and are required to show how they plan to do this in their strategic plan.

The EP also managed to ensure that income support for young farmers will have a new mandatory minimum level of 3% of member states’ budgets for the CAP.

Moreover, we insisted on greater transparency for final beneficiaries of EU subsidies and ensured that member states should be given access to the EU data-mining tool in order to avoid circumventing EU rules and to duly protect EU funds.

Finally, all through the negotiations, the EP pushed for further measures to help farmers cope with risks and future potential crises. We introduced measures to ensure that the market will be more transparent and better equipped to deal with potential turbulences and that practices designed to promote better environmental, animal health, or animal welfare standards will be exempt from competition rules.

The new legal framework is to be implemented in all member states by 1 January 2023. Member states will need to hand in their respective strategic plans on how they want to implement the new rules by the beginning of 2022. Member states must draw up strategic plans that are feasible and implementable for farmers. Attractiveness and incentives for farmers are the keywords here, with an emphasis on avoiding bureaucratic burdens. In the case of environmental measures, care must also be taken to ensure that they really do benefit the environment. In approving the strategic plans, we expect the European Commission to pay very close attention to member states’ compliance in meeting the requirements of the reform. 

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Norbert Lins is a German politician who has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2014. Since 2019, he is chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. He is a member of the Christian Democratic Union, part of the European People's Party.