EU strikes deal to safeguard small farms and curb agriculture’s environmental impact

New Cap rules intended to direct subsidies away from intensive farming

It is understood the deal would require countries to spend 20% of payments to farmers from 2023-2024, rising to 25 per cent between 2025-2027, on ‘eco-schemes’ that protect the environment. File photograph: Getty

It is understood the deal would require countries to spend 20% of payments to farmers from 2023-2024, rising to 25 per cent between 2025-2027, on ‘eco-schemes’ that protect the environment. File photograph: Getty

 

European Union negotiators struck a deal on reforms to the bloc’s huge farming subsidy programme on Friday, introducing new measures aimed at protecting small farms and curbing agriculture’s environmental impact.

The deal ends a near three-year struggle over the future of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (Cap), which will absorb about one-third of the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget, spending €387 billion on payments to farmers and support for rural development.

Representatives from EU member states and the European Parliament clinched the agreement. It aims to shift money from intensive farming practices to protecting nature and rein in the 10 per cent of EU greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture.

The new Cap rules apply from 2023 and do not cover Britain following its exit from the EU.

“On some points we may have wished for a different outcome, but overall I think we can be content with the agreement we have achieved,” said EU commissioner for agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski.

Campaigners and some politicians said the deal failed to align farming with EU goals to fight climate change. They warn that many of the green measures were weak or made optional for member states to require farmers to shift to environmentally friendly methods.

It is understood the deal would require countries to spend 20 per cent of payments to farmers from 2023-2024, rising to 25 per cent between 2025-2027, on “eco-schemes” that protect the environment, according to a draft agreement.

Eco-schemes

The final agreement was not published.

Examples could include restoring wetlands to absorb CO2, or organic farming, although the rules did not define what would count as an eco-scheme.

Any funds below those limits that are not spent on eco-schemes must be spent on green measures in other areas instead.

Other agreements include rules requiring EU states to redistribute at least 10 per cent of Cap funds to smaller farms. Countries could dodge this requirement if they use other methods to distribute the funds fairly.

All farmer payments would be tied to complying with environmental rules, such as setting aside 4 per cent of arable land for areas where nature can thrive, or rotating crops annually to boost soil health.

EU auditors this week said the current Cap was failing to reduce emissions. EU agriculture emissions, half of which come from livestock, have not fell since 2010.

The European Parliament and member states must formally approve the agreement. – Reuters