The future Common Agricultural Policy: How to combine food security with strong environmental protection and climate change mitigation.

The Common European Agricultural Policy (CAP) is becoming more sustainable: This is the central message of the agreement the European Agriculture Ministers reached over the past month under the German EU Council Presidency. It also ensures that the agricultural sector continues to fulfil its core responsibility: food security for 450 million consumers in the 27 European member states. The agreement of the Agriculture Council is therefore a breakthrough for Europe’s agricultural policy, because it combines environmental protection and climate change mitigation with food and nutrition security. It also provides planning certainty for our farmers.

For the first time in the history of the European Union, the following principle applies: There has to be a quid pro quo.

It is therefore a system change, a success for the environment and the climate, for our farmers, for rural areas and for European consumers.

Minimum budget for eco-schemes

It has been clear for a long time that environmental protection/climate change mitigation and an income-securing, high-yielding agricultural sector are not mutually exclusive. With the new CAP, however, agriculture will perform even better. At least 40 per cent of its funds need to be used for achieving climate goals. This is a significantly higher value compared with other EU policies. The introduction of a binding, Europe-wide minimum budget for the eco-schemes plays an important role in this regard. This was not included in the European Commission’s original proposals and was pushed through by the German EU Council Presidency in the face of considerable resistance.

The environmental and climatic conditions under which farms operate in the European Union, however, differ considerably between countries in some cases. Therefore it is a major joint achievement of all those involved that an agreement was achieved to henceforth link 100 percent of the direct payments to tighter environmental and climate requirements for all European member states. They include obligations for agricultural land, for instance on minimum levels of protection for moorland and wetlands and on the establishment of exclusively non-productive fallow sites to secure biodiversity. In addition to that, it will from now on be binding for all European Union Member States that at least 20 per cent of the direct payments are used for eco-schemes for additional environmental services. This includes the additional establishment of fallow land and blossoming areas to protect insects and water bodies, the selection of diverse crop varieties to foster species diversity and the promotion of extensive grazing.

Key elements of the Green Deal and hence also of the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy were also fleshed out, for instance by agreeing on a minimum budget for eco-schemes and higher requirements for direct support.

This significant step-up of environmental services will make a tangible contribution to more climate change mitigation and environmental protection. The post-2020 CAP therefore mainly targets sustainability-orientated production.

Direct payments will be made contingent on production practices

Direct aid schemes continue to play a crucial role in cushioning fluctuations in farm prices, securing farmers’ income and thus providing planning certainty with respect to food and nutrition security. They also provide financial compensation for the high standards in environmental protection, animal welfare and consumer protection that apply to European farmers, which are significantly higher than in some non-EU countries. We need to be willing to pay for these high standards.

In this case, too, our approach is fundamentally new: direct payments to producers are no longer linked only to land ownership; instead, they depend on agricultural practices. Those who comply with basic environmental and management standards on more land are eligible for these payments. If you provide more services, you get more, if you provide fewer services you get less or nothing at all.

We want the farming sector to be profitable, now and in the future. Therefore, we also decided that at least 2 percent of the national direct payments budget must in future be used to support young farmers, who may receive a payment for young farmers and/or start-up assistance.

It is important to offer young farmers attractive prospects by providing incentives and making it easier for young people to get started in agriculture. For investing in the future of agriculture today means securing tomorrow’s food and nutrition.

Flexibility thanks to national strategy plans

The common goal is clear: to strengthen an income-securing, high-yielding and at the same time resource-conserving agricultural sector to secure our food and nutrition. The broad consensus on this common goal notwithstanding, the national specificities of the individual member states need to be appropriately taken into account. There is no “one size fits all” approach in this case. We will only be successful if we acknowledge the specific conditions in each member state. Therefore, it is planned to have national strategy plans in the future to give the respective countries the necessary flexibility on how to implement the rules. This is the only way that countries will be able to adapt the mandatory, EU-wide requirements and implement them successfully.

Initiating a system change in the European agricultural sector

The European Union’s future Common Agricultural Policy will secure the future: for our environment, our climate and our farmers. And hence also the future of our food and nutrition. Because protecting the environment and mitigating climate change are the prerequisites for us to be able to continue to produce adequate, safe food in the future.

This means initiating a system change in the European agricultural sector.

By strengthening the farming sector in the European member states, we are also providing support to sustain strong regional production in Europe.

In this way, we will not only conserve resources and secure the supply of food in the European internal market; we will also strengthen both our rural areas and our European supply chains, which have already proven their worth during the ongoing pandemic.

After all, the Council’s agreement on the future Common Agricultural Policy also sends an important signal to European citizens in times of rising national interests, because it stands for strengthening European cohesion, for shared European values and hence for a united Europe. In the forthcoming trilogue procedure with the European Parliament and the European Commission, the German EU Council Presidency will vigorously defend the ambitious Council mandate, in particular on environmental protection and climate change mitigation.