EU Policy. Ministers mollify farmers with simpler CAP rules

A major concern of farmers – who again took to the streets in Brussels this week – is that their margins have been eroded by surging prices.
A major concern of farmers – who again took to the streets in Brussels this week – is that their margins have been eroded by surging prices. Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Gerardo Fortuna
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Agriculture ministers rubberstamped fresh measures to reduce administrative burden on farmers, aiming to address imbalances in the food supply chain as a next step in addressing protests.

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Agriculture ministers from the 27 member states gathering this week in Brussels agreed a simplification package proposed by the Commission in late February to ease red tape surrounding eligibility for EU farming subsidies.

The measures reduce green conditions required to receive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding, also providing exemptions from checks for farms under 10 hectares – which will affect 65% of CAP beneficiaries.

“Today's discussions show that the work on the request from the agricultural sector has made good progress, but we haven't finished,” Belgium’s agriculture minister David Clarinval told reporters during a late press briefing on Wednesday (26 March).

He referred to the need for actions to improve the position of farmers within the food chain, as “they have to contend with very large actors in the food chain.”

“This is why we are asking the Commission to pursue its endeavours and try to find a solution as fast as possible,” Clarinval, who will chair the EU Council on agriculture until June, added.

A major concern of farmers – who again took to the streets in Brussels this week – is that their margins have been eroded by surging prices of inputs such as fertilisers and plant protection products that ultimately increased their production costs.

The Commission presented the ministers with a reflection paper that sets out a series of paths to strengthen farmers’ position in the food supply chain.

A first measure included in the document is the setting up of a European crisis observatory on production costs and margins which will also look into the topic of unfair commercial practices.

However, the real ambition is to overhaul the Unfair Trade Practices (UTPs) directive set up in 2019 to redress imbalances in the EU food supply chain created by large operators against trading partners with weak bargaining power.

This framework guarantees a minimum basis of protection from these practices and proposes a fixed list of 16 forbidden unfair practices at the EU level. Some member states have their legislation on the matter, sometimes including a much broader list of unfair practices than the one set out in the directive.

“We will analyse the possibility of including in this directive the principle that it is forbidden to pay the farmers less than the production costs,” said EU Agriculture Commissioner Wojciechowski.

For the Polish Commissioner, it is essential that additional costs are not borne by consumers and leading to food price rises in Europe as a result. The work of the EU executive will be focused on reinstating correct relationship between very large purchasing companies and farmers in these “unequal fights with big corporations”.

It also wants to ensure the revised directive is implemented similarly across the different member states. “If those purchasing entities would find it more difficult to operate in one member state, they would shift their operations to a different member state. But if we implement the rules at the European level, it would be more difficult for them to bypass those rules,” said Wojciechowski.

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