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EU agricultural reform fails to meet climate and sustainability targets

by Katrin Muhl (comments: 0)

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Following the proposals of the European Commission, climate-hostile agricultural steppes will continue to dominate the landscape after 2020. symbol picture © Pixabay/josealbafotos

A research team has analysed the European Commission’s current reform proposal for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after 2020. The result is rather disillusioning.

A research team led by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the Georg-August University Göttingen, has reviewed around 450 publications that assess the current CAP according to criteria such as effectiveness, efficiency and relevance.

Ecologist Guy Pe’er (iDvi), who led the project together with agricultural economist Sebastian Lakner (University of Göttingen), says that if the EU is serious about its commitment to the sustainability goals of the United Nations, these must also be reflected in agricultural policy, and corresponding indicators for measuring success must be defined. He warns that the proposals to the reform are not only no improvement, but would actually constitute a step backwards compared to the previous regulations.

1.8 percent of recipients receive 32 percent of money

Among other things, the researchers criticise that the EU wants to maintain Pillar 1 of the CAP. In the opinion of the researchers, this pillar constitutes of measures harmful to climate and environment. Hereby, the EU is distributing around 40 billion Euros, or 70 percent of the budget, to farmers on the basis of their cultivated area alone. And this means that 1.8 percent of the recipients receive 32 percent of the money. “These compensatory payments were provisionally introduced in 1992, but now lack any scientific justification”, says Lakner. Of the 17 sustainability goals of the United Nations, the study found that the payments only help to some extent in the fight against poverty and hunger, but even there they are not sufficient. “There is no sustainability target that is really met”, Pe’er complains.

Not enough organic farming

Furthermore, the EU does not sufficiently promote organic farming. To date, only 7.2 percent of the agriculturally used area in the EU is accounted for by this group. According to Pe’er, the money is distributed incorrectly because nothing is paid for the development of new products: “There are not enough incentives for the sector to further develop sustainable products”. Even organic products are often not even close to sustainable, he adds with a reference to well packaged tomatoes to long transport routes from Southern Spain.

However, Lakner warns that simply increasing payments could also have negative consequences: “You always have to keep an eye on the market when subsidising organic products, otherwise the stable organic prices may fall”.

More money for Pillar 2

However, the research team not only criticizes, it also shows ways to improvement. Among other things, this includes putting more money into the second pillar of the CAP. In addition, the EU should pursue a new approach. While so far, the money has been distributed at farm level, “it makes more sense to promote cooperation at the landscape level”, suggests Pe’er. Farmers would then have to work together on the design and management of their environment and develop cross-farm concepts in order to receive subsidies. According to the scientists, it would also make sense to link subsidies to sustainability criteria in the future. This also applies to currently excluded sectors such as wine, olives and cotton. For example olive groves could significantly help protect biodiversity, Pe’er explains, especially if traditional structures such as hedges and terraces are preserved.

Negotiations expected in autumn

However, whether the EU will adopt the experts’ demands is questionable. The European Commission, the European Council and the EU Parliament are expected to negotiate the CAP proposals in autumn. Pe’er comes to the conclusion: “The EU obviously lacks the will to meet the public demand for sustainable agriculture and to implement its global environmental and development targets.


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