NAfter months of struggle, negotiators from member states and the European Parliament have agreed on a reform of the EU’s agricultural policy. In future, European farmers will have to take part in so-called Eco-Schemes – ecological programs – in order to be entitled to the full direct payments from Brussels. The aim is to make the funding “greener”.
From 2025, 25 percent of the aid is reserved for the programs. In the two years before that, the states should initially only test the new approach. In these years, the share of eco programs should only be 20 percent. If the farmers do not participate, their money will be cut.
The agreement clearly falls short of the objectives of the EU Parliament. That had called for 30 percent of the aid to be reserved for eco programs, and no test phase was planned. In addition, the compromise provides for further exceptions. For example, the states can reserve less money for the eco-programs if, in addition to the classic direct payments for the farmers, they provide more money in their programs to promote rural areas for environmental and climate protection.
More than the Commission proposal
“In fact, we end up closer to the 20 percent demanded by the states,” said MEP Martin Häusling (Greens). The climate and environmental requirements have also been lowered elsewhere. Häusling accused the German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) of playing a double game. You can celebrate at home as a reformer and have stepped on the brakes in Brussels.
However, the decision goes further than the original proposal of the EU Commission from 2018. It provided for the introduction of eco-programs, but no fixed percentage should be reserved for them. The new commission under Ursula von der Leyen had adhered to this when it took office in 2019, despite its declaration of the “Green Deal”.
Only Vice President Frans Timmermans, who is responsible for climate protection, recently pushed with all his might for the climate goals to be more firmly anchored and threatened to withdraw the Commission’s proposal. But he did not receive any support from the Commission for this either. Klöckner had recently accused him of jeopardizing the agreement through his behavior.
Almost 400 billion euros
A total of 387 billion euros are earmarked for agricultural policy in the multiannual EU budget from 2021 to 2027 at current prices. Of this, 291 billion euros are allocated to the so-called first pillar, from which farmers receive direct payments. The amount depends on the size of the farm. German farmers currently receive around 280 euros per hectare.
The rest of the money is spent on programs to promote rural areas via the so-called second pillar. This also includes environmental and climate protection projects. However, the new requirements will not take effect until 2023 because the EU institutions agreed early on to extend the existing rules by two years until the end of 2022 due to the corona crisis.
The criticism of the eco-schemes does not only focus on the proportion of total expenditure. It is also about what is meant by these programs. The Greens complain that there is no reliable evidence that the precision agriculture mentioned as an example, in which the cultivation of the fields is controlled by satellite, has a positive effect on climate and environmental protection.
How they shape the eco-programs is ultimately up to the EU states. However, they must submit their respective national strategic plans with details to the European Commission by the beginning of next year. Environmentalists are also concerned that the incentive to switch from traditional production to organic farming will tend to decrease as a result of the new eco programs, because this step would then result in only a few advantages but high costs.
The EU agricultural reform that has now been agreed does not have any far-reaching consequences for the implementation of the German strategic plan that has already been adopted. In its key points it is compatible with the compromise. It goes beyond that, but that is allowed. The states and the European Parliament still have to officially approve the agreement in order for it to come into force. The EU agriculture ministers should deal with it for the first time on Monday. The Greens announced that they would vote against the compromise in plenary in autumn.