Environmental groups have urged the EU to scrap a long-awaited reform of the bloc’s agricultural subsidies, warning that planned changes do not go far enough in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming.
EU ministers on Monday backed a provisional agreement to revamp the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy, which is renewed every seven years and is worth €387bn, to help promote greener farming methods and financially reward farmers who embrace sustainable techniques to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But green activists are calling on the European Parliament to vote down the agreement, which requires approval from a majority of MEPs. Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green MEP, described the deal as a “paper reality constructed by conservatives” to prevent the sector from aligning with ambitious emissions targets.
“It’s now up to the European Parliament to vote the CAP down,” tweeted environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who has spearheaded a campaign for Brussels to withdraw the CAP reform.
The parliament vote is due in the coming months and is likely to be tight after the centre-right and liberal groups said they would support the reforms.
Planned changes to the new CAP, which runs from 2023 to 2027, have been negotiated for more than two years and sparked fierce lobbying from countries with strong farming sectors, such as France, Italy and Spain, which have resisted placing stringent environmental conditions on billions in farming subsidies.
After talks collapsed last month, EU negotiators on Friday reached a preliminary deal to reallocate about 25 per cent of farming subsidies in the CAP, known as direct payments, to farmers who voluntarily chose to use sustainable methods such as organic farming from 2025.
Member state governments will also need to submit “strategic plans” to Brussels, laying out how they plan to spend subsidies to promote green targets. Farms receiving subsidies must also dedicate 3 per cent of arable land to biodiversity.
The CAP accounts for about a third of the EU’s total seven-year budget and helps support the income of millions of farmers in Europe, who have often resisted sweeping changes to the system.
The EU has committed to reducing its average carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, compared with 1990 levels.
However, environmental groups and the EU’s green parliamentary group have long criticised the CAP reform for not going far enough to incentivise change in a sector that accounts for about 15 per cent of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Greens had pushed for a 30 per cent reallocation to sustainable farms.
Supporters of the agreement said it will help boost financial support for smaller and medium-sized farms, after complaints that a bulk of the subsidies go to the largest agribusinesses. Under the deal, EU governments must redistribute at least 10 per cent of direct payments to support small farmers.
Frans Timmermans, EU commission vice-president for green policy, who had previously criticised the scope of the changes, welcomed the provisional agreement as marking “the start of a real shift in how we practice agriculture in Europe”.
“In the next years, we will protect wet and peatlands, dedicate more farmland to biodiversity, boost organic farming, open up new income sources for farmers via carbon farming and begin to redress inequalities in the distribution of income support,” he said last week.
The Greens had pushed for a cap on payments to the largest farmers and wanted to impose clearer legal limits on what should count as truly sustainable farming.