Wed. Dec 2nd, 2020
Agrifood Brief: The final CAPdown – five things you need to know
Welcome to EURACTIV’s AgriFood Brief, your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU. You can subscribe here if you haven’t done so yet.

7 – CAP reform, plenary vote, pesticides

The pitched battle for the fate of the next EU farming subsidies programme is set to play out next week. Here’s your quick survival guide to the final CAPdown.

The post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has reached a turning point, although perhaps this isn’t so obvious at first glance.

Positions among different lawmakers are still far apart, while lobbyists and NGOs are stepping up their efforts in a last-ditch attempt to have their voices heard.

While committees in the European Parliament still aren’t talking to each other, conversations between key players can only be held virtually as some of them are self-quarantined and press meetings are also held online.

Phones are ringing off the hook and inboxes are full as they are now the only way to get in touch with people involved in the process.

Let’s start with the basics. Why it is said that we are in the middle of the final countdown to CAP – or CAPdown, for the punsters?

In 2018, the European Commission put forward its post-2020 CAP proposal. The European Parliament and the EU Council, both then have to sign off on the same amended text to that proposal.

To do this, they both meet together with the Commission in hush-hush sit-downs known as ‘trilogues’ in EU-speak. There, they start negotiating on a common final text.

But to kick off discussions, the negotiators – Parliament’s rapporteurs on the file plus a minister of the rotating EU presidency – need a mandate from the institution they represent to negotiate on their behalf.

Two key things happen next week: one is a gathering of farming ministers and, the other is a plenary session at the Parliament.

Both occasions are important opportunities to get the required mandates approved and negotiations rolling.

So, here are five things to know in the run-up to what could potentially be a crossroad for the next CAP:

1. Anything could happen in the European Parliament. The role of the Parliament’s committees is to do a sort of ‘screening’ of the different proposals and bring some compromise amendments to the plenary. This time, individual amendments are being presented and will be voted, after a clash between the agriculture (AGRI) and the environment (ENVI) committees.

However, this time an agreement among the three largest parties in the European Parliament, the Christian-democrats (EPP), socialists (S&D) and liberals (Renew Europe), has been struck. Although the parties are fairly confident they will have enough hands to move things along, there might be some tricks on the voting lists, so nothing is set in stone just yet.

2. Ministers don’t seem ready. Parliament’s insiders still believe that after the vote, the trilogue could start immediately in November. However, political discussions on the other side are still ongoing and it remains highly unlikely that a mandate for the German presidency could be agreed next week.

3. Different sticking points. If the outstanding issue at the Council is the green architecture of the CAP and particularly the eco-scheme, the struggle at the Parliament is also on how to enshrine – or not enshrine – the sustainable targets set in the EU’s new food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, in the CAP.

4. NGOs are quite upset. Well, environmental groups are always kind of upset, but this time they’ve called the agreement between the three largest Parliament’s parties a “stinking deal”.

5. Remote vote. The showdown is not going to be in Strasbourg, where most of the Parliament’s plenaries are set, but not in Brussels either. The entire session will instead be held ‘remotely’ due to the increased risk of coronavirus. This makes it the first huge piece of EU legislation to be voted entirely remotely, which could soon be the new normal for the next few months.

And here’s the last thing you need to know.

Although we might be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, whatever happens, we are not at the end of this process just yet. We’re merely at the halfway point.

Trilogues still need to be done and negotiations could last a long time – last time they took 18 months, with a grand total of 56 meetings.

At the same time, lawmakers need to get cracking and pick up the pace, as time is running out and the risk is increasing that the EU farming subsidies will not continue to flow at the end of the transitional period.

Agrifood news this week

Experts warn of ‘inevitable disruption’ of food supply chains with no-deal Brexit
After the United Kingdom voted against including guarantees on food standards in its post-Brexit legislation this week, experts have warned that a no-deal Brexit holds wide-ranging ramifications for food safety and businesses. Natasha Foote has more.

EU chemicals strategy to address pesticide chemical cocktails
The EU chemicals strategy adopted on Wednesday (14 October) aims to address the cumulative and combined effects of chemicals, including pesticides, stressing a need to accelerate work on methodologies that ensure existing provisions can be fully implemented. Read more here.

Member states reserve right to ban pesticides authorised in EU, rules EU court
Europe’s highest court has concluded that member states have the right to ban pesticides even if they are permitted at the EU level, provided they officially inform the European Commission. Natasha Foote has the story.

“We will offer more organic products to European tables and I think we have a good plan for this – more organic management of land and more organic products for our consumers” 

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski speaking at a conference on the Farm to Fork strategy

 News from the bubble

Coronavirus and crop yields: Cleaner air since the start of coronavirus restriction measures could lead to a global increase in wheat yields this year of between 2% and 8%, according to a study led by the Joint Research Centre.

Future of livestock: The EU Commission published a study this week on the future of the European livestock sector, which highlighted areas where the sector can improve its sustainability and contribute to environmental goals.

‘Lobby-alliance’: Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) launched an attack on farmers lobby COPA-COGECA this week, saying that an ‘unholy alliance’ of big farm and agribusiness lobby group Copa-Cogeca, together with pesticides and food industry giants, is waging a battle against the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy and Biodiversity Strategy.

CAP pre-deal: The three largest political groups in the European Parliament, the Christian-democrats (EPP), socialists (S&D) and liberals (Renew Europe), agreed on a common position on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The final vote is expected next week.

Recovery money. Parliament’s Agriculture Committee agreed on Tuesday (13 October) on how to allocate the €7.5 billion top-up coming to the EU’s farming subsidies programme from the EU’s post-COVID stimulus plan. Lawmakers updated the text proposed by the Commission to distribute all the money made available for rural communities from the EU recovery instrument to the years 2021 and 2022, whereas the Commission originally wanted to release the money from 2022 to 2024.

Food security debate: The debate on food security kicked up a notch this week with a new Greenpeace analysis which concluded that the vast majority of European crop production is used to feed animals and create biofuels, rather than feeding people.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

FRANCE
While the vote on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is being prepared, fourteen civil society organisations are calling for demonstrations across France “to denounce the current agro-industrial system and defend ecological agriculture”. Entitled “Notre assiete pour demain” (“Our plate for tomorrow”), this call comes as the French government has just voted to temporarily reauthorise the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (EURACTIV.fr)

AUSTRIA
Austria is concerned about next week’s negotiations over changes to the CAP, particularly as they relate to environmental standards, Der Standard reported. The country wants to preserve the system of dividing environmental benefits between the programme’s first two pillars. If this moves entirely to the first pillar, as is being discussed, it could put Austrian agriculture at a disadvantage. “Increased, mandatory environmental requirements in the first pillar, without taking into account the environmental performance in the second pillar, would be a no-go,” Agriculture Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP) claimed at the end of September. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

GERMANY
The German Agriculture Ministry (BMEL) announced updates to its Federal Programme for Energy Efficiency on Friday (9 October), making €38 million available from 2021 onwards. But the German Farmers Association (DBV) have been critical of certain aspects of the plan, particularly that the use of biofuels, vegetable oils and alcohols is excluded from funding. “The exclusion of subsidies, which was apparently introduced under pressure from the Federal Environment Ministry, is technically incomprehensible, contradicts the goals of the Climate Protection Plan 2030 and ultimately supports fossil fuels,” said Michael Horper, chair of the DBV’s Renewable Energies Committee. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

UK
Attempts by farmers and food campaigners to enshrine high food safety and animal welfare practices in British law after Brexit were defeated on Monday (12 October) after amendments included in the bill did not pass through the House of Commons. The bill, with its overturned amendments, will now return to the House of Lords before further debates will take place.  (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND
On the back of the EU summit in Brussels this week, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has launched a Brexit Emergency Policy – paper which sets a 3-step plan to mitigate the damage to Irish farming from Brexit. IFA President Tim Cullinan said first and foremost that “we need a deal to try and keep our exports flowing into the UK without tariffs or quotas. However, the EU Commission has to start preparing the EU market for a bad outcome. We need a clear plan from the EU on how they intend to support farmers in a no-deal scenario.” (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

POLAND
Poland’s poultry sector – one of the most important branches of agriculture – may suffer a €330-million loss in 2020 due to the coronavirus epidemic, according to estimates by the National Chamber of Poultry and Feed Producers. During the first seven months of the year, poultry companies lost the equivalent of around €150.6 million due to an export slump. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)

Upcoming events

Happy world food day! Today is the yearly celebration in honor of the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations back in 1945

19 – 23 October – The plenary vote of the European Parliament, which includes voting on the Common Agricultural Policy reform. See here for the agenda

21 October – EURACTIV debate to hear how the brewing sector is reacting to the European Green Deal and what its impact might be. More information here

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