Agriculture in the European Green Deal: From Ambition to Action

Today I had the pleasure of contributing to a panel discussion on the European Green Deal at the annual DG AGRI workshop on the medium-term outlook for EU agricultural markets, income and environment. This post consists of a slightly extended version of my remarks.

The European Green Deal is a growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a prosperous, fair, competitive and resource-efficient economy, with no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, zero pollution and a decoupling of economic growth from resource use. It is also a response to urgent challenges.

Despite progress in some areas, many trends in the farm and food sectors are going in the wrong direction.

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Commission publishes Member State envelopes for direct payments and rural development 2021-2027

The Commission has published without fanfare on its MFF website the breakdown of national pre-allocated ceilings for direct payments and rural development for the coming 2021-2027 programming period as well as their scheduling over the seven-year period. These figures are based on the European Council’s MFF conclusions in July 2020 and assume that these conclusions will eventually receive the approval of the European Parliament. As I write this, this is not a foregone conclusion. Talks between the German Presidency and the Parliament negotiators on the MFF package made no progress yesterday evening despite an attempt by the Presidency to break the logjam by offering to find additional funds for budget lines supported by the Parliament at a mid-term review of the MFF.

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CAP Transition Provisions 2021 Regulation delayed

In June 2020 the Council and COMAGRI negotiators reached a partial provisional political agreement on all essential aspects of the Commission draft Regulation extending the CAP provisions beyond 2020 (I discussed the Commission’s draft Regulation in this post). This followed a decision by COMAGRI to enter into negotiations with the Council without first seeking a Parliamentary first reading position on the basis of its legislative report on the draft Regulation agreed in May 2020. While most of the provisions of the CAP direct payments regulation would apply as long as that regulation remains in force, the transition regulation is necessary to provide a legislative basis for other CAP spending after 1 January 2021.

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New approaches to rural land management and governance: restoration, regeneration and rewilding

We are pleased to welcome this guest post by Professor Ian Hodge, Professor Emeritus of Rural Economy in the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, UK.

Agricultural policy reform will always be unfinished business.  Shifting political priorities and power bases, changing technologies and developing environmental pressures will all alter the balance of priorities and mechanisms.  But opportunities for radical policy reforms are rare.  The periodic reforms of the CAP have as yet failed to deliver the level of change that many readers of this CAP reform blog would like to see.  However, in the UK, Brexit offers a unique opportunity to rewrite policy from the ground up. 

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Keep an eye on coupled income support

Much attention is rightly focused on the changes that the co-legislature (Council  and Parliament) might make to the Commission’s proposed green architecture in the next iteration of the CAP (see contributions from Lakner and Pe’er and ARC2020 as well as my earlier post). There are also other elements in the proposed CAP framework with potentially important implications for production and environmental outcomes. In this post I focus on the proposals for one of the more production-distorting elements, namely, coupled income support.

The background

The conditions governing what is called ‘voluntary coupled support’ (VCS) in the current CAP and what the Commission has relabelled ‘coupled income support’ in its May 2018 proposal for the next CAP have been gradually relaxed in the current CAP period (I have previously described in earlier posts the changes made in the 2013 CAP reform and the changes introduced in the Omnibus Regulation).

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The CAP in the 2021 budget negotiations

The Council Presidency, European Parliament negotiators and the Commission have had several trilateral meetings during August and September to try to reach agreement on the seven-year Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) following the European Council conclusions in July. The aim is to reach agreement by the end of October, but according to the Parliament’s negotiators, these discussions are not going well. The Parliament is pointing to the safety net procedure in the Treaty which, in the event of no agreement, provides for a contingency plan which would allow sectoral programmes to start functioning on 1 January 2021 on the basis of the 2020 amounts.

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German Presidency pursues lowest common denominator on future CAP green architecture

The German Presidency of the AGRIFISH Council posted a background note on 3 September 2020 on the green ambition of the future CAP prepared for a meeting of the Special Committee on Agriculture on 7 September. This follows a background paper on the green architecture of the CAP that it prepared in early July shortly after it assumed the Council Presidency. This was intended to steer discussion at the July AGRIFISH Council meeting and raised questions specifically around eco-schemes and setting a minimum share of non-productive land that might be required as part of conditionality.

These documents build on, and in some aspects amend, the work of the Croatian Presidency in the first half of the year.

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When the CAP budget pendulum finally stopped swinging

In the early hours of Tuesday 21 July 2020, around 5.30 am, after four days and nights of negotiations, European Council leaders reached agreement on both the Next Generation EU recovery instrument and the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027. Reaching unanimous agreement among 27 leaders who entered the negotiations with widely different positions was an astounding political achievement. And although the inevitable compromises were accompanied by expressions of regret, it is extraordinary that every leader has expressed satisfaction with the final outcome.

There are many aspects of the European Council conclusions that warrant analysis: the agreement that the EU for the first time can issue debt to fund a stimulus package to address the catastrophic economic fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic; the future links between EU financial transfers to countries and the rule of law; the framework set out for additional own resources in the coming years; the continued relevance of budget rebates: and the extent to which the final outcome succeeded in ‘modernising’ the budget to reflect the EU’s new priorities.

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The European Commission must not greenwash the Common Agricultural Policy

We are pleased to welcome this guest post by Célia Nyssens and Bérénice Dupeux, Policy Officers for Agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau.

Will the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) deliver on the agriculture-related objectives of the European Green Deal?

This question has been asked of the Commission countless times since the Green Deal was announced. On 20 May, alongside its Farm to Fork (F2F) and Biodiversity Strategies, the Commission sought to give a definitive, reassuring answer. But the answer only reaffirmed our concerns. In a Staff Working Document, the Commission emphasised the “potential” of the CAP to deliver on the EU Green Deal (EGD), but it also explicitly recognised several weaknesses, namely:

  • The lack of ringfencing for eco-schemes and the omission of key animal welfare laws in conditionality
  • The risk of key aspects of the proposal being watered down in the co-decision process, particularly conditionality rules and the performance framework
  • The need to rely on Commission officers to “carefully assess” the national CAP Strategic Plans to avoid harmful subsidies, especially regarding coupled income support
  • The need for member states to set national targets against the objectives of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy, with no legal provisions to that effect in the CAP framework

Head in the sand

This Commission analysis is unconvincing.

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Commission proposes increased agricultural spending in reinforced MFF

My previous post discussed the rationale for the Commission’s revised MFF proposal put forward on 27 May 2020 which includes a proposal for a European Recovery Instrument (ERI) to finance front-loaded expenditure in the next MFF plus a slightly revised ‘standard’ MFF (which the Commission refers to as a ‘reinforced’ MFF). In broad terms, the reinforced MFF allows for commitment appropriations amounting to €1,100 billion over the 2021-2027 period, while the ERI would help to finance a further €750 billion of spending in the 2021-2024 period, in constant 2018 prices.  Together, they add up to a total proposed spending of €1,850 billion over the MFF period.

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