The Irish Times view on EU farming talks: Towards a new reality

All hinges on how to reconcile massive subsidies currently weighted in favour of intensive farming with the EU’s new green deal

Greenpeace Environmental activists stage a protest in front of the European Parliament during the trialogue negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Greenpeace Environmental activists stage a protest in front of the European Parliament during the trialogue negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

 

There was no surprise when talks ended without a deal on EU Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) reforms. The outstanding issues remain new eco-schemes to shift subsidies away from basic payments; rebalancing supports to benefit smaller farmers and the degree of flexibility allowed for member states.

Fundamentally, all hinges on how to reconcile massive subsidies currently weighted in favour of intensive farming with the EU’s new green deal. Battle lines have been clear from some time. Commercial farming wants to retain core funding in the face of re-positioning of the EU’s biggest spending item – while accepting limited redirection to enhance environmental management of their holdings.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans flagged the critical requirement: member states need to face the consequences of higher climate goals. Confirming he would be attending the negotiations, he underlined: “The Cap reform must enable us to implement the [EU] farm-to-fork strategy and the biodiversity strategy”.

On a European scale, he noted 80 per cent of the money is still going to 20 per cent of “recipients” – citing big landowners or big corporations. In Ireland’s case, that means big beef, dairy and tillage farmers. Maximising eco-scheme spend would support farmers and their families going in an ecological direction, and begin to turn around the “huge oil tanker” that is Cap, he said. Some governments, however, pushed to lower funding earmarked for eco-schemes and to limit a move to share out subsidies more evenly through convergence.

The stakes could not be higher for Irish farmers, so it has to be got right. Brexit is biting harder and an imminent carbon budget has to be agreed which will oblige them to reduce biogenic methane substantially. Irish farmers need to face up to that new reality and set out pathways to ensure they make a fair contribution to decarbonising Ireland. In tandem, the Government must provide greater support in ensuring a “just transition” for Irish agriculture.

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