The endgame for the implementation of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Germany has begun - at least if the German government has its way.
The National Strategic Plan
She wants the so-called National Strategic Plan (NSP), i.e. the rules for Germany's multi-billion euro agricultural subsidies for the years 2023-2027, to be finalised before the Bundestag elections. To this end, around ten different laws and ordinances must be passed through the Bundestag and Bundesrat by June, although the EU's framework laws will not be finalised until May at the earliest and the Commission on the Future of Agriculture convened by Angela Merkel will not publish its recommendations until June.This haste can be seen as very critical (and completely unnecessary), after all, it is about setting the course that will decisively shape the way we use land for the new decade.
Nevertheless, Julia Klöckner has apparently reached an agreement with the environment minister that the federal cabinet will decide on a legislative package on 24 March, which will be coordinated with the federal states in parallel and, if necessary, adapted to the results of the Brussels negotiations in early summer.
Proposals of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture
A look at the proposals of the Federal Minister of Agriculture, which she published on 1 March in the form of key points, shows that there is still much need for discussion. The press release sets out how the First and Second Pillars of the CAP are to be structured at national level in terms of content and funding. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Ms Julia Klöckner, continues to speak of a "system change". But how ambitious are the proposals regarding the conservation of biodiversity really?
In the first pillar, direct payments are linked to environmental conditions. This EU requirement, called conditionality, the exact form of which is still being negotiated in Brussels, is as pleasing in its basic idea as it is self-evident, yet even the minimum standards to be expected from the EU level are far too low and give rise to fears that the environmental balance of the CAP will not, on the whole, go far beyond the "cross-compliance rules" and "greening" already in force in the last funding period (2014-2022). A system change looks different!
The BMEL proposals for the implementation of conditionality contain a minimum share of three percent of non-productive land (or landscape elements) on arable land. On grassland, the non-productive areas are completely absent, although it is precisely in intensive grassland regions that refuges for many species would be important. But to preserve biodiversity, we need significantly more unused areas as habitats and food bases for biodiversity and for the production of environmental services such as pollination and natural pest control - namely at least ten percent according to current studies. Only conditionality guarantees structural diversity across the whole area - because farmers will not voluntarily give up production land everywhere, however attractive compensation that could be paid through the eco-schemes ("Ecoschemes") might be.
Funding of eco-schemes too low
The eco-schemes are financed through the First Pillar. Here, Julia Klöckner is already committing herself to a share of only 20 percent of the direct payments that have so far flowed per area - although in Brussels the European Parliament is insisting on 30 percent in the current negotiations - there will be no clarity here before May. 20 percent corresponds to about 900 million euros per year, which could be made available to reward environmental, animal welfare and nature conservation services, as well as organic farming. However, at least €2 billion are needed here to make organic regulations economically attractive and to implement them on a large scale. In view of the needs in these areas, this is far too little, especially when one considers that 80 percent of the funds will continue to be distributed on the basis of land ownership.
For the conservation of biodiversity, there is another problem: as the greening of the current CAP, which is coming to an end, shows, support is only effective if it only allows measures that are really effective for the conservation of biodiversity. "Ecological priority areas" in which catch crops may be cultivated, flower strips that are too narrow or the promotion of "precision agriculture" per se do not have sufficient effect for various reasons. Therefore, eco-schemes must meet clear quality standards.
The BMEL's formulated eco-schemes are not presented in detail in the press release. However, the headings give some hope that technically high-quality solutions for the protection of biodiversity are offered here. The measures include an increase in the amount of non-productive area and landscape elements and their upgrading into flowering strips, flowering islands and old grass strips. In addition, the extensification of permanent grassland, the grazing of sheep, goats and suckler cows and agroforestry systems are to be promoted through the eco-schemes. But there will be no clarity until the concrete legislative proposals are available, which are to be adopted by the federal cabinet on 24 March.
The second pillar of the CAP
The second pillar of the CAP, however, is essential for achieving nature conservation goals. It already provides the lion's share of funding for protected areas and maintenance measures for important habitats. Here, effective and regionally specific funding programmes are available at the level of the federal states through the agri-environmental climate measures (AUKM) - but to a far too small extent. Based on figures from the federal government, NABU assumes that one billion euros would be needed annually - three times as much as at present.
Funds from the First Pillar can be transferred to the AUCM in order to shape its financial structure. Julia Klöckner wants to increase this transfer from the current six to 8 percent from 2023. This is a start, but it is not nearly enough to meet the funding needs of Natura 2000 sites and species protection. Moreover, since organic farming is expected to grow to a share of 20-25 percent of the country's land by 2030, this will create unwanted competition with the other agri-environmental measures if its funding is not transferred to the First Pillar. It follows that the share of reallocation must also grow over the years in order to guarantee the long-term financing of the AUCM, including organic farming! To reach the billion mentioned for biodiversity alone, 20 percent redeployment is necessary.
An inadequate design of conditionality and a far too low provision of financial resources for nature conservation in the First as well as in the Second Pillar do not constitute a change of system. The CAP reform's ability to enable farmers to respond appropriately to the challenges of our time - protection of natural resources, climate change and loss of biodiversity - and to adapt economically is jeopardised by this proposal of the Federal Minister of Agriculture!
With the National Strategy Plan, it is in the hands of the German federal and state governments to initiate a sustainable and future-oriented agriculture now. Anything else would lead farms, rural areas and our entire society into even greater economic and ecological crises.