EU farm ministers sabotage attempts to strengthen environmental elements of new CAP

Posted on 25 June 2021

Turning a blind eye on the climate and biodiversity crises, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU reached an agreement on all contentious aspects of the EU’s multi-billion-euro farm policy.
The deal reached on Friday shatters any hopes of significantly increasing the environmental aspirations of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which accounts for a third of the EU’s total budget but has repeatedly failed to make EU farming more nature- and climate-friendly.

In an effort to reach an agreement before the end of this week, the Parliament caved in on the final deal to the full satisfaction of the Council, which has been adamant about lowering the environmental and climate ambitions of the CAP. The European Commission gave up on its efforts to bring the CAP somewhat closer to the European Green Deal with a compromise package tabled on Thursday night.

Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer for Agriculture at the WWF European Policy Office, said:
“This cannot be called a co-decision: the Parliament has lost virtually all the amendments that could have made the future CAP somewhat greener and fairer, while the Council has managed to get most of its positions through. Despite the scientific warnings about industrial agriculture’s impact on climate change and nature loss, this CAP reform maintains the status quo, failing to orient and support EU farmers in the transition to climate- and nature-friendly agriculture. Europe’s environment and farmers will pay the price for the co-legislators’ failure to move away from our destructive food and farming system.” 

The final trilogue took place just days after the release of a new report by the European Court of Auditors, which shows that the CAP has failed in making EU agriculture more climate-friendly. Agriculture is one of the leading causes of nature loss and is both a key driver and victim of climate change, but the co-legislators chose to completely disregard the evidence.

Disaster for soil health: Soil erosion costs European farmers €1.25 billion a year, but the co-legislators have effectively abandoned any real effort to protect farmland soils through CAP conditionality. Additionally, by watering down the requirement of crop rotation, crucial for managing pests with low use of agrochemicals, they have made it virtually impossible to achieve the target of halving the use of pesticides by 2030, as set out in the EU Farm to Fork strategy. 

Cramped space for nature: To reverse the loss of biodiversity in the EU, at least 10% of every farm in Europe would have to be converted into a natural habitat like hedgerows and ponds. This is the target set out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy, but the CAP co-legislators have agreed on a mere 3% target, and this requirement excludes small farmers and will only be applicable on arable land, which is clearly insufficient.

Risk of greenwashing: Eco-schemes are intended to reward farmers who are already managing land in a nature- and climate-friendly way, and to incentivise the adoption of specific farming practices with higher environmental benefits. The Council position allowed for them to be implemented as a flat-rate payment with little environmental ambition, but the Ministers have now agreed to the Parliament’s proposal for a “rating or scoring system” and to link the levels of payment to the ambition of the eco-schemes. However, the final deal leaves Member States with a great deal of flexibility in how they will implement the eco-schemes, so only close oversight by the EU can prevent them from turning into another exercise of greenwashing.

Green Deal (mis)alignment: The few amendments from the Parliament that were still explicitly linking the CAP to the European Green Deal are barely recognisable in the deal. A strong amendment by the Council prevents that the non-legally-binding Green Deal is used to assess the national strategic plans, in which Member States set out how they will implement the CAP until 2027, as part of the Commission’s review process. The Commission will still be able to assess the plans, but will not be able to take any corrective action on Member States, other than sending “soft” recommendations that would only have an effect in the CAP post-2027.

For more information:

Jabier Ruiz
Senior Policy Officer, Agriculture & Food Systems
WWF European Policy Office

Bartosz Brzezinski
Communications Officer
WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 484 28 15 10
The CAP reform agreed on Friday goes against all scientific evidence on climate change and biodiversity loss
© Sergio Souza