The road ahead is still hidden in fog. Watch out for too much flexibilty and watered down environmental ambitions. Photo: Mark Michalis/ BY

More flexibility risks further erosion of sustainability ambitions

Direct payments will remain the core of the budget, “greening” will be abolished and member states will get more power, as the Commission points out the future direction for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

On 29 November 2017 the European Commission presented a communication on “The Future of Food and Farming”, a document that set out the guidelines for a real CAP proposal that is expected to be published in spring or summer 2018.

The Commission announced that they want to abolish the much-criticised “greening” mechanism of the first pillar, noting that its implementation has been “sometimes less ambitious than intended”. The three instruments that are supposed to contribute to environmental objectives – cross-compliance, green direct payments and voluntary agri-environmental and climate measures – are going to be replaced by “a more targeted, more ambitious yet flexible approach”. This is in line with a recurring theme in the document – giving more power to member states to shape the policy instruments. EEB Policy Manager for Agriculture and Bioenergy, Faustine Bas-Defossez, expressed her concern:

“Time and time again we’ve seen that when EU governments are given more flexibility they go for the lowest common denominator. If freedom and flexibility do not come hand in hand with accountability then history will repeat itself and the flexibility afforded will be nothing more than a smokescreen to systematically water down environmental ambition. We need a future policy where the Commission does not shy away from applying real financial penalties on countries that don’t follow the rules.”

If the commission prevails, direct payments will remain untouched in a future CAP. Being one of the EU’s largest budget items, they are often criticised for delivering too little public good in relation to the large sums that are paid out. Since direct payments are based on farmland area it results in the somewhat strange situation where 80 per cent of the money goes to the largest 20 per cent of farms. The Commission is considering adjusting this distorted allocation of economic support to some extent, e.g. through capping payments or introducing digressive payments.

Climate issues are referred to repeatedly in the document. One of the three main objectives for a future CAP is “to bolster environmental care and climate action and to contribute to the environmental and climate objectives of the EU”. The fact that greenhouse gases from farming have been increasing in recent years is not mentioned in the document, instead the long-term trend from 1990 is put forward. However, it is noted that “in the absence of stronger and more ambitious policy support it is unlikely that EU agricultural emissions will continue to decrease at the same pace”. What form such support should take is less clear. Climate-smart farming supported by training, advice and innovation is said to be one part of the answer.

Any mention of the impact of livestock production on climate and environment is however conspicuous by its absence. Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: “The industrial production and overconsumption of meat, milk and eggs in Europe is having a devastating impact on our health, nature and the climate. The Commission’s failure to even mention the problem shows the EU is asleep at the wheel while our food and farming system heads straight for disaster. The new EU farming policy should reward farmers who provide healthy food while protecting nature, water and soil, and the climate.”

Kajsa Pira

“The Future of Food and Farming” is available here:


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