Reform of EU Agriculture Policy and Biodiversity Protection

Conversation

How will the plans for the European Green Deal alter European agriculture policy? What needs to happen for Europe to pursue climate- and biodiversity-friendly agriculture that creates a rural landscape that people want to live in? And what is the role of diets and trade in all this?

Man in the colorful field

Martin Häusling, Member of the European Parliament Greens / EFA and Hannes LorenzenPresident of ARC2020 in a conversation with Dr. Christine Chemnitz,
Head of International Agricultural Policy Division, Heinrich Böll Foundation Berlin

Christine Chemnitz: Do you get the feeling that discussions of the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) have changed since the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies were put on the table in the framework of the Green Deal? Has the debate taken a more critical turn once again? Are there any new aspects? 

Martin Häusling: Yes, I have to say that I was surprised by the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies and by the Green Deal. It could almost have been a Green manifesto. However, it lacks specific implementation concepts. For instance, it does not explain how the Commission plans to cut pesticide use by 50% or put 30% of land and sea areas under protection in the next few years. What annoys me is the fact that the Commission mainly just refers to the Member States and their so-called strategic plans. The instruments are still not there, though.

Among many farmers, but also among many MEPs in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, the prevailing mentality is still that “we are already struggling and now they want to impose new requirements on us, we are going to need more money”. The situation in the Council is no different than in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development – first and foremost, it is about securing the money. A few Member States might go along with it, but I am not confident that the ones that have blocked all reforms for years are now going to implement the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.

Does that mean there are more grounds for concern than for hope that the Member States will take on an entirely new and much more important role?

Hannes Lorenzen: I share Martin’s concerns that the forces of inertia continue to be extremely significant within the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament, the Council, but also in the Member States. Renationalisation can be grounds for both hope and concern at the same time.

On the one hand, there is no clear, binding European framework to bring the Green Deal, Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategy under the same umbrella. As the new strategic plans are being set out, a lot of the old system is being retained. As has been the case in many of its reforms, the Commission has accurately sketched out all the problems that have to be dealt with. But unfortunately, that results in quite little, because of the resistance from the proponents of pushing on with this industrialisation of agriculture.

On the other hand, there is more flexibility for the Member States to decide how the next CAP should look like. Possibly the Covid crisis and the additional funding for Member States, which now have more options open to them, will prompt them to take a closer look at what they can do with it, in view of the challenges. That is also what we are doing at ARC2020 with our analysis of the national strategic plans being developed. With Farm to Fork, the Green Deal and the Biodiversity Strategy, this debate now has a new basis – it is certainly not concrete enough, but it’s a start.

What do you see as the most important things that now need to happen to make the CAP climate and biodiversity-friendly and create a liveable rural space?

Hannes Lorenzen: A thorough restructuring of the support systems is absolutely vital. At the moment, support is based predominantly on size or number of hectares and benefits the big farms. Basically, they are investing public money in an agriculture of the past. Support should be tied to other objectives, such as supporting biodiversity or binding CO2.

We also need an adequate infrastructure to make it all possible. There has been a division of labour for a long time now: the USA and Brazil produce soy for our meat products and we grow more cereals and almost no protein. We need to achieve a sensible balance between crops and livestock, otherwise we cannot resolve all the problems with intensive animal rearing. Crop rotation systems need to be possible, the seeds for this must be available, the farmers must have the option to produce their own fodder (…). There should also be a new decentralisation in marketing, processing and slaughtering, allowing the farmers to make a decent living. And the money from the recovery plan must no longer be distributed according to farm size. It must be channelled into this infrastructure reform.

Martin Häusling: The crisis offers the opportunity to rethink existing structures. What is happening in the meat industry in Germany right now has been a great shock to many. I hope that these fears do not go away just yet. I don’t want it to be like it was with BSE, when a point was reached when people stopped being worried and it was back to business as usual.

I am critical of the environmental performance in the first pillar. This is optional for farmers. Most money is going into the least-favoured regions, which already have environmental programmes, and not into the ones with more intensive agriculture, which are in more desperate need of greater biodiversity support and more regional structures for processing and trade. We need a strong element of conditionality in the CAP so that everybody complies with the minimum environmental requirements, but even that is highly contentious.

I agree with Hannes that the dependency on soy is critical. Ultimately, we need European protein strategy plans. European agriculture policy is still geared towards export, particularly of meat and milk, and towards a globalised agricultural industry. We are still talking about trade deals, for instance with Mercosur, that do nothing to change this. The strategic direction needs to be fundamentally different, as this would necessarily bring us different results.

A lot of fault has been found with much of it for a long time already. Reforms have failed time and again. Where is the greatest leverage to introduce demands for greater conditionality and a completely different focus?

Martin Häusling: My hope is that we have a Commission that is also calling for these things. A Commission that does not just make attractive proposals, but also gets down to the nuts and bolts of implementation. Responsibility cannot just be foisted onto the Member States. The countries could be given more scope, but not without clear and specific social and environmental requirements. Time is of the essence, we cannot afford any more years of inertia.

Hannes, what aspects of the discussions of the national strategy plans in the Member States do you find hopeful? I get the impression that civil society is ahead of politics, in Germany at least.  

Hannes Lorenzen: I don’t think hoping for anything is of much use any more. I have been observing attempts at reform for 35 years and I have come to the conclusion that the CAP is no longer capable of reform. My hopes are for something new. Between environment and agriculture, the entire rural area is of the greatest interest in terms of development potential in the Covid crisis. Will it give rise to a food policy enabling an entirely different form of cooperation between farmers and consumers, in other words completely different structures, fair prices through quality? Is there a new, comprehensive concept for rural development? NGOs, alternative farmers’ associations and consumers must now all speak with one voice. The Greens have an important role to play here, particularly as they have just won so much support in France.

Martin Häusling: But everybody needs to get on board, including all Greens in positions of responsibility in the federal states in Germany. There is still room for improvement in the CAP, for instance via the Bundesrat. Civil society groups must also start to increase the scope of their arguments. People need to consider the bigger picture, rather than just their own particular interests. Animal welfare, for instance, can only work in the long term if rearing, keeping AND marketing are gradually reformed and the products are priced honestly, it’s all connected.

But to do this, an action plan is needed. Treating the symptoms is not enough. One major criterion in this must be whether a means of production hinders or supports ecosystem services. Distinctions need to be drawn. Take cattle, for instance: if they eat imported fodder, that is a disaster for the climate, but if they are allowed to graze on pasture land, that is active climate protection. We need a campaign that is based on all the central requirements.

To finish off, let us return to the recovery plan and the extra 15 billion euros. How can we make sure that this money is now spent wisely?

Hannes Lorenzen: The Member States must now apply something in their strategic plans that they previously only had to do under the second pillar. They cannot just spend money, they must plan how they spend it. And they need to justify why they choose to do one thing or the other with the money. That is fundamental. The recovery plan can help to save livelihoods and we must make sure that we are bringing them into a long-term, sustainable future. We have to keep people in farming, so that they can bring farming to the fore in the subjects of the environment, social affairs and food quality. I believe this is the banner we should be marching under, as Greens in particular.

Christine Chemnitz: Martin, a final question to you as well, as this is something you have already mentioned. It is about rooting European agriculture in a global agricultural trade. It is difficult to push change towards greater quality, because of the need to compete globally. What needs to happen for the EU to go down this path at all? Specifically, what is your view of the carbon tax? Or the Mercosur deal?

Martin Häusling: We Greens have been accused of protectionism in the field of agriculture. This is simply not true. We want qualified market access and that needs to happen in compliance with European standards. The fact that the Commission itself wants to put a CO2 tax, as I would call it, on the borders, is an opportunity for a different kind of agricultural policy, but only a step towards it. We cannot impose new requirements on our farmers while telling others that they can supply whatever they like and however they like. That would be the first point on which I would say there is a real opportunity for a fresh start for agriculture.

One very interesting lesson we have learned from the crisis is that those that have suffered the most are the ones that are reliant on export. Those who have invested in more regional structures have basically come out of the crisis unscathed. Storage of products, large-scale dairy companies, meat storage and others have received funding again. We need to finally realise that the sectors that have been the worst hit by the crisis are the ones that produce standardised industrial commodities for the global market. We need to develop the small and medium-sized regional structures. If we use the recovery plan to invest in these structures, then we will have done the right thing. We have an enormous opportunity here.

Thank you very much.

The conversation took place on 9 July.