CAP votes over, next stop: trilogue

Last week, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament took a position on the CAP. The next step is for both institutions, together with the European Commission, to find a compromise and approve the result in separate votes.

What has the European Parliament decided?

In its position, the European Parliament has spoken out in favour of a general lowering of mandatory environmental standards within conditionality. Despite individual improvements, such as the obligation to observe crop rotation, the adopted text even falls short of what the EU Commission had proposed in 2018. On the important question of the proportion of non-productive land (e.g. hedgerows and fallow), the Parliament did not want to go beyond the previous regulation in the context of greening. Scientists and even the EU Commission have declared this to be a failure in recent years, as hardly any improvements for biodiversity could be achieved.

In the case of voluntary environmental services within the framework of the eco-schemes, the Parliament was more generous and demands that in future the member states must reserve 30% of the first pillar for these. At the same time, however, the Member States should use at least 60% for the existing direct payments. In addition to further compulsory expenditure, for example for young farmers, this means that ambitious Member States will hardly be allowed to go beyond this 30%. Many question marks also remain over quality. Several loopholes could lead to a lot of money disappearing in light-green measures or to additional gold-plating of already existing practices without added value for the environment.

Almost completely deleted was any reference to the European Green Deal. This makes it more difficult to align the CAP with the important goals of the Biodiversity Strategy and the Farm-to-Fork Strategy. Among other things, the EU Commission lacks the possibility to hold Member States accountable if they ignore the targets for pesticide reduction or the creation of habitats in the agricultural landscape. There have also been changes in the second pillar. Instead of the previous 30%, 35% is now to flow into environmental protection. In contrast to the EU Commission's proposal, however, part of the compensatory allowance for disadvantaged areas should continue to be eligible, despite the doubtful environmental benefits. The above-mentioned increase in the environmental budget is thus immediately reduced again.

What did the Agriculture Council decide?

The position of the agriculture ministers is also characterised by a weakening of conditionality. In the case of non-productive land, however, it is marginally higher than that of the Parliament. Thus, member states are to be allowed to choose between the existing rules on ecological priority areas or 3% genuine "space-for-nature", i.e. truly non-productive areas. This decision would be made within the framework of national programming. Unfortunately, the Council decided to exempt large groups of farmers (such as those with less than 10 ha of land) from this requirement across the board, which significantly reduces its effectiveness.

As far as financing is concerned, the ministers were only able to decide on a share of 20% for the eco-schemes in Pillar 1. However, in this variant, unlike in the case of the Parliament, the member states at least have the option of going beyond this. In terms of content, the Council does not give the member states much to do. Although there are fewer loopholes in the text, there are no real guarantees that this money will be used for truly ambitious environmental protection.

In the role of the Green Deal, the Council falls behind the Parliament and could not even agree on lip service. No progress is visible in the 2nd pillar either and the compensation payments are to be fully chargeable to the environmental budget, which remains at the 30% level. Due to the smaller overall budget for the second pillar, there is even a threat of a step backwards compared to today.

Next stop trilogue and #WithdrawTheCAP

It is not yet the end of legislation at European level, Council and Parliament still have to agree on a common position. This is done in the so-called trialogue, where representatives of both institutions negotiate a compromise together with the EU Commission. It is conceivable that the negotiators in this round will combine the best elements from both reports and thus achieve tangible improvements. However, given the disastrous votes last week, a much worse outcome is also conceivable, so there is still a lot at stake. The start is currently scheduled for 10 November, but delays are possible due to COVID-19. We can only speculate about the duration of the negotiations, but it is conceivable that the deal will not be concluded under the German Council Presidency, i.e. by the end of 2020.

It is already foreseeable that the result will hardly be in line with the Green Deal propagated by the EU Commission. The Commission, as the third negotiator, can also propose improvements in the content of the trialogue. It also has the so-called "nuclear option" at its disposal as a last means of exerting pressure by withdrawing the original proposal from the times of the Juncker Commission (and thus before the Green Deal) and thus completely breaking off the legislative process. It could then make a new legislative proposal that better takes into account the latest developments around the Green Deal. Initiated by "Fridays for Future", a broad civil society alliance is already calling for this under the hashtag "WithdrawTheCAP". In our view, this option must be put on the table by the EU Commission right at the beginning of the trialogue as an "ultima ratio".

At the end of the procedure, if the Council and the Parliament agree, the final vote will take place in both institutions. The S&D Group had already drawn red lines in advance, for example with regard to the level of the environmental budget in the first pillar. If these red lines are broken, MEPs will have to think twice before agreeing to a further watering down or pulling the ripcord at this very last moment.

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