EU endorses sweeping agricultural reforms to bolster greener farming

An aerial picture shows a tractor in a field in Plomeur, western France on March 22, 2021.
An aerial picture shows a tractor in a field in Plomeur, western France on March 22, 2021. AFP - DAMIEN MEYER

European Union lawmakers gave the green light to hotly debated farming policy reforms that make up a mammoth one-third of the bloc’s budget. The reforms are seen as a way for the agriculture sector to achieve its 2030 sustainability goals.


The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rules, which come after three years of internal tussling, seek to reduce the 10 percent of emissions produced by EU agriculture, and shift money away from intensive farming practices and towards those that safeguard nature and the environment. 

Under the deal, some €387 billion will be spent on Europe's six to seven million farmers along with support for rural development. Up to 25 percent of payments to farms must be put towards eco-schemes. At least 10 percent of CAP premiums will go to smaller farms. 

An important new feature is that each member state will be able to decide for itself how to distribute the money within its territory. Brussels would simply need to validate the national strategies. 

The EU CAP deal also creates a 450-million-euro crisis fund in case agricultural markets are disrupted by an emergency such as a pandemic. 

France in pole position

France will be the EU's largest beneficiary of the CAP, receiving almost €9 billion per year. However France’s own environmental authority has warned that its farming strategy did not take into account the "right level of environmental issues", adding that French policy lacks "ambition". 

In October, the authority said France needed to raise its game in order to put the country on the trajectory it had set itself in terms of “climate change, water quality and the recovery of biodiversity”. 

Suicide rates are high among French farmers, accounting for far more such deaths than in other professional sectors.

The issue on Tuesday prompted Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie to announce “collective action” involving a 40 percent increase in government funding and the training of "sentinels" responsible for detecting farmers at risk of suicide. 

Opponents criticise 'weak' deal

Brussels-based news site Euractiv reported that increasing environmental crises including soil degradation and climate-related biodiversity loss has ramped up pressure on the new CAP to be “bigger and better – and greener – than ever before”. 

However while proponents say the new CAP offers a more flexible, results-based approach that takes into account the conditions and needs of local farmers, critics argue the reform is not in keeping with EU goals to fight climate change, and that many of the measures designed to encourage farmers to go green are too weak. 

Many environmentalists worry that giving power to individual EU members to determine how the CAP money will be spent is essentially passing the buck and can only result in a outcomes that benefit oligarchs over smaller farmers. 

However European Commission's agriculture chief, Janusz Wojciechowski, was firm in his support for the measure. 

The reforms, he insisted, would "foster a sustainable and competitive agricultural sector that can support the livelihood of farmers and provide healthy and sustainable food for society, while delivering significantly more in terms of environment and climate". 

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