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EU Policy. Record approval of farming reform raises legal, climate concerns

Officials hoped that would appease farmers who have protested across Europe since the end of last year, complaining about red tape and poor incomes.
Officials hoped that would appease farmers who have protested across Europe since the end of last year, complaining about red tape and poor incomes. Copyright Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Gerardo Fortuna
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Faced with the roar of protesting farmers, the European Parliament has stripped down agricultural rules in record time – but some worry MEPs have been too hasty.

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It took only 40 days for the European Parliament to give its final nod to a legal package simplifying farm subsidies – a record for reforming a such major policy area.

The plan was presented to EU lawmakers in mid-March by the European Commission, in a bid to cut red tape and reduce certain green conditions in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Officials hoped that would appease farmers who have protested across Europe since the end of last year, complaining about red tape and poor incomes.

A majority of the parliament backed the package in a vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday (24 April), during the last plenary session of the legislative mandate – despite left-wing opposition from lawmakers including the Greens and some socialist MEPs.

The streamlined procedure that made that record speed possible was agreed on by Belgium, currently leading talks among governments in the EU Council, and Norbert Lins (Germany/European People’s Party), chair of the Parliament’s agriculture committee.

That fast-tracking has also generated criticism – as it didn’t allow time for any debate either in Parliament’s committee or plenary session.

In a move that some see as still more problematic, to save time, lawmakers ceded their prerogative of tabling amendments, meaning they had to swallow the Commission’s proposal whole.

Given the rush, the EU executive presented its proposal after just one week of public consultation, and with no formal analysis of the economic impact it would have.

“What’s outrageous from a legal perspective is the blatant incompatibility of the revision with the CAP’s own rules, as well as other EU laws – like the European Climate Law,” said Sarah Martin, lawyer for the environmental organisation ClientEarth.

A legal analysis by ClientEarth says the lack of climate assessment automatically puts the proposal in breach of EU law, and the lobby group says it’s considering a complaint to the EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who’s responsible for probing maladministration in EU institutions.

In a confidential legal opinion obtained by the food and farming platform ARC2020 and seen by Euronews, the Parliament’s legal services defended the choice of not carrying out an impact assessment “given the intensity of the recent farmers’ protests” which constitutes “an urgent situation”.

Killing the CAP’s green architecture

The package gives further flexibility to farmers, for instance providing exemptions from on-the-spot checks for farms under 10 hectares – a carveout that will affect around two thirds of beneficiaries.

But the new rules will also make it voluntary to comply with many of the green measures previously deemed mandatory for those receiving EU money.

This means in practice a partial dismantling of the CAP's green architecture – particularly the measures on soil cover, leaving a small percentage of land to nature, and crop rotation.

It also raises a question mark over how much the EU’s emergency response to protesting farmers will cost the climate – something many green lobby groups are exercised about.

“Today, the European Parliament has given in to the fake narrative that opposes the environment to agriculture, when evidence shows that they depend on each other,” said Marta Messa, secretary general for Slow Food.

“Farmers cannot produce food without thriving nature, and profit cannot be made when crops are lost in floods, droughts, or fires aggravated by climate change,” said Marilda Dhaskali from BirdLife Europe.

EU’s farmers association Copa Cogeca – one of the main proponents of the reform – said in a statement that the new rules will provide more leeway in implementing the CAP while safeguarding the transition towards more sustainable agriculture.

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The lobby group hailed the reform as a positive signal to urgently address concerns raised by farmers in recent months, citing the need for immediately applicable solutions.

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