EU Agriculture Council - Two-speed Europe

They are still negotiating, but the end seems to be in sight. After a long break, the trialogue between the EU Commission, the Council and the European Parliament is due to start discussing the green architecture of the future CAP again this Friday, 30 April. 

Portuguese bridge builders

Then important issues such as the level and design of the new eco-schemes or conditionality will be on the agenda again for the first time since December. What an agreement might actually look like, however, is still up in the air. On key issues, there are still massive gaps, especially between the Council and the Parliament, which will ultimately decide. For example, the Parliament demands that 30% of the first pillar be earmarked for eco-regulations, while the Council wants to limit this to 20%.

In order to meet the European Parliament at least halfway, the Portuguese Council Presidency had circulated a compromise proposal in recent weeks. Last Monday, the EU agriculture ministers commented on it personally in a video link-up. Afterwards, the Portuguese spoke of a clear mandate for the further trilogue negotiations, but a closer look shows that the Council was very divided.

But what did the paper say?

  • The budget for the Eco-Schemes, instead of the 20% originally demanded by the Council, is to increase to 22% in 2023 and to 25% by 2025. The experimental phase in 2023 and 2024 is to be maintained, during which the member states can use unused funds from the eco-schemes budget for direct payments.
  • The compensatory allowance for less-favoured areas should only be eligible for 60% of the environmental budget of the second pillar instead of 100%. The Parliament demands 40% here. The EU Commission's proposal of 0% would make sense from a technical point of view.
  • The GAEC standard for the protection of water bodies should, in line with the agreement reached with the Parliament in December, continue to have a minimum width of 3 metres for marginal strips. However, for countries with a high proportion of drainage ditches (e.g. the Netherlands, but also Germany), there are to be exceptions via a new footnote.
  • The GAEC standard on crop rotation is to be made more specific in order to define EU-wide what crop rotation should mean, in this case a crop rotation at field level between two growing seasons.
  • On the important GAEC9 Portugal proposes slight improvements compared to the Council position of October. According to this proposal, member states have the choice between a mandatory 4% of arable land for non-productive elements (instead of 3%) or 5% with similar rules as before under greening, but of which at least 3% points are non-productive. Sounds complicated and is still far from the 10% of all agricultural land that would be necessary according to science.

How have the agricultural ministers reacted?

Very cautiously. There was support for a higher budget for the eco-schemes, especially from the Netherlands, but also from Germany. But the camp of critics was no less loud, above all France, which did not want to go beyond the Council's previous position. Although the Portuguese Council Presidency saw enough support to submit the proposal to Parliament on Friday, the Council is divided on the issue. There was stronger opposition on the question of a higher minimum percentage in GAEC9. Only about half of the states, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland or Slovakia, supported this proposal. Germany, led by the BMEL, remained silent in the debate on this.

Where do we go from here?

On Friday, the three institutions will probably discuss this proposal. In view of the extremely weak mandate of the Council Presidency and the clearly different ideas in the Parliament, these will probably be difficult negotiations. Therefore, this date can at best be seen as a prelude to the final exchange of blows on the "green architecture" at the European level. The next round is already planned, starting on 25 May, a further "super-trilogue" is to take place parallel to the Agriculture Council. If an agreement on environmental protection is to be reached there, the Council in particular will have to move much more than it did on Monday. Germany must not remain silent on important issues such as "Space for Nature" in the conditionality.

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