The long-anticipated vote on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Proposal is due to take place at the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) of the European Parliament. However, this vote and its possible outcome create more questions than answers for civil society groups and Members of Parliament alike.
Slow Food Europe, alongside several other civil society organizations representing organic farmers, environmental protection, animal welfare, development, food, and health interests, has been urging the members of the AGRI Committee to vote for the amendments previously supported by the Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI), which chose to vote for several important ammendements such as supporting more funding for ecological farming and more cuts for intensive animal farms.
Even though the new European Parliament will most probably conclude the institutional agreement on the new CAP, the AGRI Committee of the current Parliament can still play a role in shaping the CAP proposal, and with its vote, can give the newly elected policy-makers strong indications of which direction the new CAP should take.
Ahead of the vote, Slow Food Europe asked members of the AGRI Committee what to expect from its vote and what impact it may have on the CAP Proposal?
Herbert Dorfmann, Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), Italy
Slow Food Europe: It was expected that the AGRI Committee would have its vote on the CAP Proposal in March and that would have allowed the Parliament to vote on the file in the last plenary of this Parliament. Why was the vote postponed to April?
Herbert Dorfmann: I have always been in favor of closing the first reading in the European Parliament before the end of the term. I think that enough time has passed since last June when the Commission presented its proposal. However, this was not the intention of the majority of the AGRI Committee members. It is my second term in the Parliament, and I do not remember any situation like this. It is difficult to predict the future of the CAP Proposal since we will have elections in the middle of the process and the new Parliament will have real decisive votes. If the composition of political groups is entirely different, I can imagine the new AGRI Committee trying to change the opinion reached by the current AGRI Committee. If the new AGRI Committee accepts our vote and brings the CAP Proposal to the plenary, there will still be a mess. We can expect a lot of new amendments and attempts to change even fundamental things. I think it is a pity that we have this situation, but unfortunately, the voluntary decision was to delay the vote.
Slow Food Europe: Many civil society organizations are calling on the AGRI Committee to support the amendments which have been already voted on by the ENVI and other Committees. For instance, organizations urge to ring-fence 70% of the CAP budget for specific objectives among them climate and environment, biodiversity, animal welfare, and leguminous crop production. Can members of the AGRI Committee find a common consensus on this issue?
Herbert Dorfmann: On this specific argument, the ENVI Committee is much stricter than the AGRI Committee. It is clear that the ENVI Committee sees the CAP Proposal only from the environmental point of view while the AGRI Committee has to take into consideration economic aspects and also the position of farmers. Both committees debate on how green and environmentally-oriented the policy should be, that is the reason why they both have competence on the CAP reform, but it would be strange if they had the same opinion on this issue. Very often many people say that there is no environmental benefit from the policy which is not true. For instance, in my region (South Tyrol -A/N) environmental programs for agriculture are very important. However, we have some member states which do not do much in this regard.
Slow Food Europe: The CAP Proposal has been criticized for giving even greater freedom to the Member States, and at the same time not providing a precise mechanism, which would ensure that countries act upon the needs to meet their commitments to climate change, support small-scale farmers, or to respond to societal demands on nutritious and sustainable food.
Herbert Dorfmann: The new delivery model is probably the most criticized and debated question in this reform. It intends to bring less bureaucracy, which is good, but we need to be careful. If every member state looks only for its own benefits, it could create a problem, a less Common Agricultural Policy. I do not see that as a positive effect, and other members of the EPP share that position.
Slow Food Europe: A number of ENVI Committee members have criticized the current proposal because, according to them, it “will continue boosting productivity and export“ and will not have a clear system to support small-scale farmers since its funding is still focused on hectares.
Herbert Dorfmann: There are already many possibilities, especially in the second pillar of the CAP Reform to support greener agriculture. However, I am worried about the financial aspect because the cut of the 15% of the budget in the second pillar and no cuts in the first could harm some greening measures. The Member States, which work on rural development plans (the second pillar is explicitly designed for rural development – A/N), could find it difficult to finance these plans with 15 % less money. We need to be careful because the eco-schemes in the first pillar have the potential to harm some of the successful agro-environmental programs in the second pillar because we cannot pay twice.
We need to be realistic, the Greens always speak about how the CAP tends to boost export, but first of all we need to feed this continent. Our products are not exported all over the world, and we do not produce for all the world, that is not the case. It is true that we have some excess and we export it. However, the most important thing is to feed this continent, and then you could add that maybe all of us could eat a bit less. That is another question though.
Slow Food Europe: Probably you are aware of recent reports, including the Eat Lancet report, where it is clearly said that we need to change our diets, and our model of agriculture, otherwise we will not be able to meet our commitments to the Paris Agreement.
Herbert Dorfmann: I am very critical if we talk about European agriculture as a whole, we have to look to separate regions. For example, I am coming from a region where agriculture is not harmful to the environment, and it is not a problem for climate change because it is in the mountains, it is small-scale. Of course, we have other regions, where we see problems.
Slow Food Europe: Statistics show that a lot of small-scale farms in Europe are disappearing, we cannot ignore that fact and only look at specific examples.
Herbert Dorfmann: We have different situations in agriculture in Europe, and in some cases, we need to be careful. I would say, that with regards to the eco-schemes, the most intelligent decision would be to link animal production to the land. If we speak about industrial farming, the biggest problem is the production of meat. There are farms with 1,000-5,000 cows, which bring soy from Latin America to feed animals, and then produce huge quantities of milk and other products. That is an industry, not agriculture. It is creating the most significant problems in Europe, and we should be stricter about it. However, you cannot solve it only with changes to hectare-based payment. It is clear that it goes in favor of bigger ones. But it is a question of what is happening on a farm, and how to link the payment and activities in a farm.
Slow Food Europe: The AGRI Committee is about to vote for the CAP Proposal, which direction do you think it will go?
Herbert Dorfmann: I cannot say now how this debate will end. I am not even sure if after voting for all amendments we will have a majority for the proposals. So, it could happen that the AGRI Committee will not have its opinion on the CAP Proposal and that the CAP file would go to the new parliament without any results from the AGRI Committee. The CAP Proposal is complex with thousands of amendments, it would be disappointing to see the hard work of the past few months blown away in a few minutes, but that is politics.
Maria Heubuch, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, Germany
Slow Food Europe: The AGRI Committee is about to vote for the CAP Proposal, and even though the new Parliament will play a significant role in shaping the final file, members of the Committee faced a lot of pressure to make this CAP much greener than it is now. Civil society organizations issued a letter a few weeks ago, urging to ring-fence 70% of the CAP budget for specific objectives: climate and environment, biodiversity, animal welfare, and leguminous crop production. Can the AGRI Committee surprise us and vote for a greener CAP?
Maria Heubuch: At this moment it seems that we do not have consensus on that. As Greens, instead of 70% of the CAP budget, we have suggested allocating 50% of the money for the eco-schemes, which would include all the specific objectives you have mentioned – biodiversity, climate and environment, animal welfare, and leguminous crops production. We also suggested increasing the percentage of funding for the eco-schemes year by year. In other words, we wanted to start with 50% and go higher throughout the period. That was a proposal put forward by the Greens, but in the end, we lost. For the moment, we talk about 30% of the CAP budget, and at the same time the rapporteur (Esther Herranz García, Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), Spain – A/N) wants to lower conditions to make it even less than 30%.
Slow Food Europe: The ENVI Committee has clearly expressed their support for small-scale farms, by voting for a reduction of subsidies for intensive farming. Can this amendment be supported by the AGRI Committee?
Maria Heubuch: The rapporteur is not interested in small-scale farming. She is more or less representing big farms in Spain, and her interests are there. We will see how the votes are going to run, but I am not sure if we can find a majority for this part of the proposal.
Slow Food Europe: The European Court of Auditors criticized the CAP Proposal for lacking ambition when it comes to environmental and climate objectives in their opinion, saying that they are not clearly defined. Does the AGRI Committee take into consideration this opinion and discuss to vote for the corresponding amendments?
Maria Heubuch: Yes, the opinion of the Auditors has been presented at the Committee, but the majority is not on the side of the Auditors. I should say that it is not the first time when the Court has criticized the CAP. With the last CAP reform, it was the same, the Auditors drew their critical opinion, but the Parliament did not take it into consideration. We do not have a majority now, and we did not have it previously.
Slow Food Europe: Are there any amendments where we can expect the AGRI Committee to have a similar position to the ENVI Committee?
Maria Heubuch: There is no agreement between the ENVI and the AGRI Committees. The ENVI Committee reached its opinion, as well as the Development (DEVE) Committee. The ENVI Committee had the possibility to go to the plenary and vote for a much greener CAP. The ENVI Committee has a proposal which suggests going much further in terms of environmental ambition than the initial Commission’s proposal does. Meanwhile, the proposal, which has been presented by the rapporteur in the AGRI Committee, waters down the CAP Proposal of the Commission, which, as we all know, was not a very ambitious proposal to begin with. So, part of the AGRI Committee tries to water down the CAP Proposal even further, and the ENVI wanted to improve it.
Slow Food Europe: In which direction can the CAP Proposal go after co-legislative procedures in the Parliament?
Maria Heubuch: It is difficult to predict. Now we will vote in the AGRI Committee, then we will have elections, and in July we will have the new Parliament. Nobody knows who will be there, who will have the majority, and whether or not the new Parliament will accept the AGRI vote or decide to change some parts of the file or even dismiss it completely. Nobody knows. The new Parliament can reopen the discussions at the Committee level.
Indre Anskaityte, Slow Food Europe