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EU agriculture reform pits farmers against environmentalists

A local seasonal worker works at a strawberry field in Bottrop, Germany, Friday, April 17, 2020.
A local seasonal worker works at a strawberry field in Bottrop, Germany, Friday, April 17, 2020. Copyright Martin Meissner/AP
Copyright Martin Meissner/AP
By Darren McCaffrey
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The EU's Common Agricultural Policy represents the largest slice of the EU budget, and is currently subject to fierce battles between farmers and environmentalists as the bloc seeks to reform its policy. Striking a balance between protecting livelihoods and nature is proving tricky.


For farmers, big and small, Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) keeps them in business, and it’s a big slice of the European Union’s budget too, representing over a third of the entire expenditure.

After years of negotiations, changes are afoot, with plans to cut back on spending and make farming more environmentally friendly and substantial.

The European Council has agreed its negotiating position, while a large majority in the European Parliament today adopted the key points of a proposed reform to CAP.

Changes to CAP includes making:

  • 10% of money available for landscapes that benefit biodiversity
  • 35% for environmental and climate-related measures
  • Direct payments for eco-schemes

Green MEPs, however, believe the plan doesn’t go nearly far enough.

“Well farming today is part of the destruction, and part of the problem, especially with industrial agriculture and mass breeding, it could be part of the solution," claims Thomas Waitz, Austrian, Green MEP.

"Agriculture can actually sequest, CO2 into the soil if it replaces artificial fertilizer with green fertilizer, it cannot just reduce the emissions but actually contribute to sequesting the CO2 into the soil. It has a huge potential in supporting climate neutrality and this chance, I must say has been missed now.”

For others, who back the deal they argue European farmers need support.

“Well I have sometimes think here in Brussels that we are only in the green agenda and we are not only in the green agenda, agriculture policy has also always been an economic policy," explains Herbert Dorfmann, EPP MEP.

Dorfmann says we need to find a balance between the interests of the farmers and the interests of the citizens and customer. He emphasised the responsibility of consumers.

"They cannot just go on, to ask for sustainable food, more organic food, more local food and whatever and go to the supermarket and look for the cheapest thing he can buy. This does not work.”

Speaking to Euronews, the Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said he believes the compromise works for all,

“The CAP is a great tool, how to actually shift our resources to help farmer to do farming on a much more sustainable way and this is what CAP must serve for."

Sinkevičius added that he hoped to find an agreement which serves both farms and the European Green Deal to protect nature.

Talks to get a final deal for Europe’s farmers are likely to continue for weeks to come.

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