The European Parliament has approved reforms to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), after nearly three years of negotiations.
This latest round of changes is intended to be more climate-friendly by strengthening biodiversity and adhering to the bloc’s latest climate commitments.
It also aims to be fairer to small farms and young farmers, with 10% of direct payments earmarked for small and medium-sized farms.
But Tijs Boelens, a thirty-year-old organic farmer in Belgium who falls into this category, said the reforms mean nothing to him.
“Again, it’s us who get nothing. Once again, we are not being supported,” Boelens told Euronews. “This new CAP reform is business as usual. It’s making the big ones bigger than before. We are giving money to the rich with this CAP.”
“I don’t know if the people of the European Union understand this. We are giving public money to people who already have a lot of money,” he added.
Boelens and his partners produce around 60 kinds of vegetables but receive just €2,500 per year in European aid.
Anna Panier, 27, another young Belgian producer, says she deplores the difficulties faced by new, younger farmers.
“For young people like us, it’s already very difficult to set up. We don’t have any land, we don’t have a farmhouse, we don’t have any buildings. We work with plastic tents, we build our own sheds with containers. We do what we can,” Panier said.
For the representatives of the main agricultural organisations and cooperatives, it’s time to move forward.
CAP reform negotiations opened in 2018 and Pekka Pesonen, Copa-Cogeca secretary-general, says they must now come to an end.
“Well, it’s never enough if you ask any stakeholder group. We all have our ambitions, but this is about the compromise that has been reached. We do not get everything for European agriculture. It’s a compromise we have to live with,” Pesonen told Euronews.
“However, we consider this is a good compromise where most of the objectives have been addressed and we are committed to it.”
Many MEPs have been vocal in their criticism of the latest CAP reforms, however, with the Greens saying the final agreement preserves the status quo and falls to live up to the promises of the EU’s Green Deal.
“Many are desperately claiming this is a sustainable CAP reform, but a powerful and entrenched intensive farming lobby, and the governments and MEPs serving them, have done their utmost to preserve the destructive status quo, resisting at every step additional safeguards and watering down environmental conditionality rules,” Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout said.
“They have wasted this ‘last chance’ CAP reform, holding back positive change for climate, biodiversity and small farmers this decade.”
For Éric Andrieu, a Socialist MEP and one of the rapporteurs on the issue, the reforms bring some certainty.
“For the first time since the beginning of the reform, we will have more regulation than deregulation. And the pandemic has shown us once again, that markets, and in particular agricultural markets, are structurally unstable. And when you have unstable markets, you need regulation and crisis management tools to guarantee farmers’ incomes,” Andrieu told Euronews.
According to the European Commission, €386.6 billion are earmarked for the bloc’s agricultural policy between 2021 and 2027, representing just under a third of the bloc’s long-term budget (31.95%).
The next and final step is for the European Council to rubberstamp the legislation, after which the reforms will come into force on January 1st, 2023.