EU Common Agricultural Policy reform pleases dairy group and angers environmentalists

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Cut: Environmental groups gathered in Brussels last month to protest at what they called ‘greenwashing’ of the new CAP. Pic: Tim Dirven/Greenpeace
Cut: Environmental groups gathered in Brussels last month to protest at what they called ‘greenwashing’ of the new CAP. Pic: Tim Dirven/Greenpeace

Related tags Cap Milk European union emissions Dairy Food Agriculture greenwashing

The European Union has completed the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) trilogue negotiations and reached a provisional agreement.

And while the European Dairy Association​ (EDA) said it’s a good deal, environmental groups have been scathing in condemning it.

Milk and dairy products are among the EU’s top agricultural sectors and the EDA said it has been following the negotiations closely.

“As the voice of the European milk processing industry, we have been during the last years in close contact with all relevant stakeholders to ensure a good outcome on the dairy essential parts, especially in the Common Market Organization (CMO),”​ the EDA said.

“The CMO is an essential part of the acquis Communautaire for the agri-food sector and of utmost importance for the dairy sector,”​ EDA secretary general Alexander Anton said.

“Its implementation is key to the competitiveness of the dairy sector in the different regions of the EU. Our preliminary analysis shows that today’s deal takes into account the need for a market orientated CAP while giving dairy farmers and processors the needed support to adapt to the new challenges. This is a significant step forward and good news for the dairy industry,”​ Anton said.

European farmers and agri-cooperatives organization Copa-Cogeca​ said it welcomed the provisional €387bn farming subsidy agreement.

“This provisional compromise reached today represents an unprecedented challenge for the EU farming community, as the negotiators for the Parliament rightly indicated. Work will need to continue to translate this in technical terms and then secondary legislation needs to be developed to guarantee a swift and timely implementation of the CAP,”​ the organization stated.

It said there are still many concerns for the sector, particularly regarding the overall coherence of the agreement reached with other EU policies.

“This morning, farmers from all over Europe reiterated the need for urgent work to be done by the Commission, during a symbolic mobilization, notably to make sure that the compromise found will be coherent at a national level but above all with regards to all other proposals of the European Green Deal, which will weigh itself in a complex and contradictory way for farmers. We must not forget that alongside the CAP, we will have tomorrow the Farm-to-Fork strategy, the biodiversity strategy, the targets on climate neutrality and the taxonomy which will have to be reflected in our future and existing trade agreements,” ​Copa-Cogeca said.  

The group said after agriculture ministers discuss the agreement in Luxembourg to potentially ratify the deal this week it would be able to give a more detailed reaction to the news.

Not everyone was welcoming the potential deal, however.

The Irish Farmers’ Association​ (IFA) wasn’t pulling any punches when its president Tim Cullinan said the provisional CAP is a bad deal for Irish farmers.

“The combined effects of the proposal will decimate a cohort of farmers in Ireland. The Minister (Charlie McConalogue) must push for further flexibility for farmers here,”​ he said.

“The Irish Government will also have to make good on their commitments for national co-financing, and on the €1.5bn from the Carbon Tax in order to protect the viability of tens of thousands of farmers.”

Cullinan added, “Our EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has done nothing to protect farmers and food production in these talks. He has been submerged by EU Commission Vice-President Franz Timmermans.

“The EU Commission keep telling us they will do an impact assessment of the Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategies before any aspects are legislated for. Yet they have been trying to embed them into CAP reform through the back door.”

And environmental groups are even more incensed.

The European Environmental Bureau​ (EEB), the largest network of environmental citizens’ organizations in Europe with more than 170 member organisations in more than 35 countries, said Europe will continue major funding of harmful intensive farming practices until at least 2027.

It said in a decade seen as crucial for reversing a range of environmental crises, a failure to shift support to ecological farming is a major policy failure. Agriculture is a leading cause of soil loss and wildlife collapse and is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The EEB said the EU agriculture commissioner admitted the existing CAP was presented as green, but drove rapid growth in the most polluting farms and wiped out millions of small farms. It added the policy also paid large sums to oligarchs and populists.

“The 2023-2027 CAP finalized by negotiators will again be presented as a win for the environment. But weaker-than-ever rules for farm payments and no meaningful environmental targets mean that around three quarters of the €270bn farm budget will go to intensive farms,”​ the EEB said.

It added “eco-schemes” have been created for the first time, worth €7.5bn between 2023 and 2024 and €9.5bn from 2025, but a discounting mechanism means fewer funds could actually be spent on eco-schemes.

“Control of this and all other CAP funding has been handed to member governments with a weak accountability and with a history of favoring intensive farming,”​ the EEB said.

“Spending plans in France, Germany and Portugal suggest the countries will continue prioritizing intensive farming methods at the expense of environmental protection.”

The EEB said intensive agriculture is the single biggest driver of species extinction and creates 15% of Europe’s climate emissions. It said there is widespread pesticide contamination of farmland and fertile soil is being lost faster than it can regenerate in more than 10% of Europe’s land area, cutting production by an estimated €1.25bn per year. Droughts and heatwaves linked to a warming climate are increasingly hitting farm production. Ecological farming can help halt or reverse these problems and meet European food security, the EEB argued.

EEB agriculture policy officer Célia Nyssens said, “The EU spends more on farmers than on anything else, making farm policy a powerful tool for good or for bad. We could be helping farmers restore degraded soils, adapt to climate change and rescue collapsing bee and other wildlife populations. But this new policy is a monumental failure of leadership to take on those grave threats. We are already seeing national governments planning for business as usual, to keep the money flowing to intensive farms. The European Parliament should take the rare step of throwing out this destructive deal this summer, to force a reset.”

If passed, the new CAP will be a serious obstacle to nationally-agreed environmental targets, including cutting European climate emissions by 55% and ending biodiversity loss by 2030.

“It will also clash with flagship European environmental farming targets to halve pesticides use, halve antibiotic use and halve fertilizer pollution, grow organic farmland from 8% to 25% and dedicate 10% of farmland to wildlife habitats,”​ the EEB concluded.

And the EEB wasn’t the only group chiming in.

World Wildlife Fund​ senior policy officer, agriculture and food, Jabier Ruiz, tweeted, “Unless the Parliament wakes up and pulls the handbrake, this CAP will just protect the status quo, failing to orient and support EU farmers in the transition to climate- and nature-friendly agriculture.”

Birdlife Europe​, the European and Central Asian Division of BirdLife International, said the CAP intensive agriculture model directly leads to biodiversity loss, water and air pollution, over-extraction of water and fuels the climate crisis.

“This disastrous deal claims to be ‘green’ but is in reality full of greenwashing. This deal means that most of the multi-billion euro budget can continue to flow to destructive business-as-usual practices if EU countries wish,”​ the group said.

Examples of problems it cited are fake climate accounting (harmful subsidies to count as climate action); massive financial support to the intensive livestock sector, which is fueling the climate crisis; no requirement for the CAP to be aligned with the EU Green Deal; no mechanism to hold Member States accountable for further environmental deterioration; no meaningful requirement for space for nature on farms (trees, ponds, flower strips, hedges), despite a minimum scientific requirement of 10%; less money for the environment in Pillar I (ecoschemes), and no requirements to actually spend the money on effective environmental measures; and non-environment spending in Pillar II will still count as money for the environment, such as ANCs (Areas of Natural Constraint) and animal welfare payments.

Harriet Bradley, senior agriculture policy officer at BirdLife Europe, said, “This CAP deal is a free-for-all dressed up as system change. There is nothing to stop EU countries from continuing to fund the destruction of nature. This is totally incompatible with the EU Parliament's promises to transform agriculture and their commitments under the Climate Law and Biodiversity Strategy. MEPs must now vote this CAP down if they are genuine about wanting to save our planet.

“How can the EU Green Deal be a success when one third of the EU's budget could be spent on making the biodiversity and climate crisis worse? The only thing green about this deal is the blatant greenwashing.”

BirdLife Europe said the EU’s own auditor service, and more than 3,600 scientists have condemned the CAP, and numerous studies have confirmed that the intensive farming the CAP promotes is pushing many species towards extinction. Since 1980, the EU has lost 57% of its farmland birds. Butterflies, bees and flying insects are also in serious decline.

Ariel Brunner, senior head of policy, BirdLife Europe, said, “This CAP is a betrayal of the farmers who are trying to adapt to climate change, a death sentence for nature, an open invitation to oligarchs to continue to pillage the public coffers, and a slap in the face of young people asking for a liveable future. It is simply a disgrace that no amount of spin, propaganda and greenwashing can hide.

“From Heads of State to national politicians and even President Von der Leyen herself all claim that the European Green Deal is our ticket to beat the nature and climate crises. But then they let national Agriculture Ministers and members of the EU Parliament’s Agriculture Committee to gut it. They do this on behalf of farming unions defending the fat cats against the interests of their own membership. This is a sad day for Europe and a significant step further towards the abyss of runaway climate change and ecosystems collapse.”

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