At the end of June, the European Parliament and the Member States reached a provisional agreement on the ‘new’ Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that will apply from 2023. The European Union’s Agriculture and Fisheries ministers ratified it days later. The European Parliament and the Council must formally approve it after the summer, but after the agreement reached, the strategic plans of each country have already begun to be defined, to adapt the standard to the reality of the sector in each territory.
Although it is announced as “the greatest reform of the CAP since the 1990s”, the truth is that the final result is more continuous than one might expect after three years of negotiations. Its new design does not contain the necessary tools to achieve the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the sector and, at the same time, meet the new climate objectives.
The process has been long and complex due to the context – the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, the management of the pandemic and the definition of the new multiannual financial framework until 2027 – and the new requirements of the Green Deal (2019), which did not exist when the Commission presented its proposal to reform the CAP in 2018. Perhaps this explains the ‘original sin’ of this reform: the fact that its guidelines have had to adapt, on the fly, to new political priorities for which they do not it had been designed.
We have serious doubts that the environmental commitment is carried out effectively. This CAP had an essential challenge: to support farmers as agents in the fight against the ecological crisis. However, they could end up falling victim to that struggle if, for example, ‘awarded’ practices are not homogenized across the EU (leading to a dumping green) or are only available to large producers, with resources to digitize their systems or implement precision agriculture.
This slippery slope, together with the traditional difficulties of the sector (low prices, lack of generational change, lack of services in rural areas), drags us to the intensification of production models, with the consequent impact of industrial agriculture on the environment. environment, the disappearance of thousands of small farms, the degradation of food quality, land grabbing, precariousness and the degradation of the rights of rural workers. In other words, less security and food sovereignty in Europe.
Despite this, we trust that the Spanish strategic plan will ‘bring down the PAC regulation, being more demanding in the demands of justice in the distribution, the green objectives and the social and labor conditionality of the funds. The plan is already being defined by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and by the Autonomous Communities. It should be remembered that, in the case of Spain, funds have been reduced by 10% compared to the last CAP: our country will receive almost 48,000 million euros until 2027 (the figure is similar to that of the previous period, but does not take into account the effect of inflation).
During the negotiations, from the European left we have defended a more just, greener and more demanding social and labor CAP. To begin with, we claimed a capping or maximum payment of 60,000 euros, since only 2% of farms in the EU receive more than that amount (in fact, farms with an economic size of less than 8,000 euros are almost 70% of the total). In the final agreement, this cap has been set at 100,000 euros (excluding salary costs) and its application will be voluntary. Each State will decide whether to apply it or not; Spain will.
A minimum redistributive payment of 10% of direct payments has also been approved. In other words, an ‘additional’ payment for the first hectares, since most European farms have less than 30 hectares. Our group demanded a higher percentage for the distribution to favor small producers more, and we trust that the Spanish plan will also set a more ambitious objective. However, the agreement establishes that the States will be able to ‘get rid’ of this obligation if their national plan shows that it covers the redistribution needs through other instruments of the First Pillar.
Several questions of economic justice have remained unresolved, such as the parity of farmers’ incomes with respect to the population’s income as a whole. The prices that producers receive are getting lower and lower due to the deregulation of the markets and the dominance of the strongest operators in the industry. However, the prohibition of selling at a loss – a key instrument to avoid the destruction of value in the food chain that already exists in some national legislation – has not been included in the Regulation of the Common Organization of Markets (CMO).
Another fundamental issue is the impact of EU trade policy and free trade agreements on the prices of the sector and on the entry of products that do not comply with European regulations, but the obligation for imports to respect has not been included. the same requirements (eg on the use of pesticides). On the one hand, the problem of prices is not solved with direct aid: more far-reaching public policies are needed to control production and stabilize the market. And on the other, European trade policy collides head-on with the objectives of the CAP and the Green Pact.
The environmental pillar of the agreement, as I have already pointed out, can be a double-edged sword. The previous CAP already contemplated a direct ecological payment (greening) which accounted for 30% of direct aid and which, as the European Court of Auditors has recognized, has had a very limited impact in the fight against climate change. The new design has reinforced this objective through the figure of the ‘eco-schemes’, which will reward the implementation, on a voluntary basis and beyond the minimum obligations, of a series of practices beneficial to the environment. Parliament asked to dedicate 30% of direct payments to this item, but the final agreement sets them at 25% of the annual budget of each State.
Beyond how much, we are concerned with how. First, a two-year ‘learning period’ is established (from 2023 to 2025) during which the mandatory percentage will be 20%, something that seems understandable to facilitate adaptation, but which will not be mandatory to compensate in subsequent years. In addition, Member States can get ‘rebates’ on the 25% target if they invest more than 30% of the Second Pillar (EAFRD and other rural development funds) in agri-environment and climate change measures.
What is included in the eco-schemes? Practices such as extensive grazing, the rotation of improver crops or the maintenance of living plant cover on crops. But also activities such as precision agriculture, which requires an investment that only large agro-industrial companies can afford, obtaining additional financing even if they continue to use other polluting or unsustainable practices. Fundamental but not strictly environmental issues have also been included, such as spending on animal welfare.
In summary, the flexibility that allows the definition and application of this instrument weakens its potential and its effectiveness. Lastly, the Regulation on National Strategic Plans does not include the obligation that said plans comply with the objectives of the Green Deal and its strategies (From Farm to Table and Biodiversity). This issue has been included in the ‘recitals’ and not in the articles of the Regulation, so it will not be mandatory.
Finally, it is positive, although very surprising, that social and labor conditionality has been included for the first time in the CAP. In other words, the beneficiaries will not be able to receive the aid if they do not comply with the legislation that already exists in their country in this regard. This requirement, which seems obvious, will not even be mandatory until January 1, 2025. Another key issue is that of generational change in the countryside: the new design increases aid to those under 40 years of age, dedicating at least 3% of direct payments to this objective (through help with the first installation, for example). From the European left we ask for more funds (between 6 and 8%), but we are aware that the real problem is the lack of attractiveness of the sector, due to the absence of authentic rural development strategies and the price situation, issues that we hope will be addressed in the Spanish strategic plan.
On the other hand, gender equality is also included for the first time as a specific objective of the CAP. Women receive less direct aid because the size of their farms is also smaller (in Spain, for example, the average for them is 24 hectares compared to 16 for women). Along with the problems in accessing property – and the prejudices that still hinder their access to finance, advice, equipment and training – women also have fewer opportunities to assume the role of owners of farms or agri-food companies. The national strategic plans must apply measures to facilitate their incorporation and permanence in the agricultural activity. Reducing the gender gap not only brings ‘benefits’ in terms of numerical or economic equality, but also helps to fix the population to the territory and recognizes and incorporates both the knowledge and the specific needs of women in rural communities.
In short, as I have pointed out on several occasions, if this CAP sets a series of minimums that, in our opinion, are insufficient, it is in the hands of the States to aim higher, taking into account the reality of their territories, sectors, needs and resources. .