Europe and Central Asia
19 Jun 2020

Science isn’t negotiable: Environment MEPs break off CAP negotiations with COMAGRI

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) ©Yves Adams
By Harriet Bradley, EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer

It’s over. The gulf was just too wide.  COMENVI believes in policies based on science. COMENVI recognizes that the planet’s resources are limited. COMAGRI lives in a self-destroying fantasy world of infinite exploitation and never-ending growth. On 10 June, the MEPs from the Environment Committee (COMENVI) broke off negotiations with their counterparts in the Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI) on the upcoming vote on the Common Agricultural Policy: the EU’s farm subsidies program, which is worth €60 billion – over one third of the EU’s budget.

The reform of Europe’s agricultural systems, and therefore the policies that govern them, is critical if we are to successfully address the existential crises of our times: biodiversity destruction and climate chaos. In the real world, our agricultural systems are both a major driver and a major victim of biodiversity and climate breakdown. Intensive agriculture is destroying nature and very few benefit, whereas all farmers depend on a healthy natural world for their very existence. Indeed, the main reason for reduced harvests in Europe in recent years has been droughts, and yields are also decreasing as intensive agriculture wipes out insects. Therefore, transitioning to sustainable and just food systems is just as essential for food production and farmers’ livelihoods as it is for the natural world that must be saved from extinction.

This message has been echoed by scientific study after scientific study. It was the overarching message from Janez Potočnik, the Co-Chair of the UN’s International Resource Panel and the former European Commissioner for Environment, at this week’s Forum for the Future of Agriculture’, a major annual summit on farming and farming policy.

This is what makes the current reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, one of the largest subsidy systems in the entire world, with huge impacts on farming practices, so important. Over 3,600 scientists have concluded that the CAP is failing to address environmental and socio-economic challenges. The Common Agricultural policy must be reformed to meet the demands and needs of current and future generations of European citizens. This means bringing the CAP in line with the EU Green Deal, including its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies. This was also the message of the Environment Committee when they called off the negotiations.

As long as the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee refuses to accept scientific reality and save biodiversity and the climate, it can only be a good thing for the planet for other, more objective MEPs to weigh in.  The Agriculture Committee is dominated by powerful industry interests, and many of its MEPs even receive CAP subsidies themselves. That’s right: they vote on how much money goes into their own pockets. It’s even the case of the lead rapporteur Peter Jahr (EPP), along with various shadow rapporteurs. It is unsurprising, then, that in April 2019, the Agriculture Committee voted against preventing decision-makers who receive CAP subsidies from deciding on how the funds are spent. The Environment Committee, however, and most recently the whole EU parliament, have supported moves to reduce conflicts of interest regarding the CAP.

Luckily, the Environment Committee has an increased decision-making power in the Parliament’s position on the CAP reform compared to last time around. An analysis commissioned by BirdLife and its German partner, NABU, showed that the Environment Committee MEPs’ position on the CAP, though not strong enough on certain issues, was far, far more progressive than that of the Agriculture Committee MEPs. It was, quite simply, based in reality.

For example, on the one hand, Environment Committee MEPs want increased environmental requirements for so-called 'income’ support that is given out per hectare, leading to 80% of the money going to just 20% of recipients, and they want to increase spending on biodiversity, climate and the environment. On the other hand, the Agriculture Committee wants to significantly reduce environmental requirements, thus increasing harmful subsidies.

Whilst the Environment Committee tried to negotiate with the Agriculture Committee, it would appear from this rupture over the green elements that Agriculture Committee MEPs have still failed to ‘see the green light’. So long as this remains the case, the Environment Committee’s decision is a positive development that paves the way for a more progressive and reality-based discussion among MEPs and their groups about the needs of the agriculture sector, and the societies and ecosystems it affects. This should not be subject to horse-trading between party leaders. Rather, a transparent debate is needed in the Plenary so that citizens can see where MEPs stand. A strong, nature-friendly position from the European Parliament on the future of CAP is critical for the future of our natural world.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.