March 5. 2024. 9:44

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Berlin gears up to leave its mark on future EU farm funds

Germany is already preparing to campaign on its vision for the future Common Agriculture Policy (CAP): moving away from area-based payments and towards remuneration for providing public goods.

Though the current funding period of the EU’s farming subsidy scheme only started in January, debates around the next generation of CAP funds, starting in 2028, are already on the horizon.

First ideas on the topic from the side of the European Commission are expected early next year, ahead of the EU elections in May 2024 that will change the composition of the European Parliament as well as end the mandate of the current Commission cabinet under President Ursula von der Leyen.

Berlin, however, is already a step ahead in its plans for the hundreds of billions in subsidies.

“The time to think about the CAP after 2027 is now,” Germany’s Green agriculture minister Cem Özdemir said after a meeting with his regional counterparts on Friday (24 March), adding it was “important that the [German] federal state and the regions vigorously bring their interests to Brussels together”.

Speaking at an event last week, top ministry official Silvia Bender also confirmed the government is already in talks with multiple other “like-minded” EU countries, including France, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Denmark, on what approach should be taken to future farming subsidies.

No more direct payments

As far as Germany is concerned, the approach should be one of “public goods for public money,” Özdemir stressed. Rather than funds being paid out per farmed hectare, all subsidies should be tied to providing services that benefit society more broadly, such as climate, health, or environmental measures, he said.

Much of the CAP budget currently goes into so-called direct payments that allocate funds to farms largely based on farmed areas.

“We want to completely replace direct payments with such a ‘public goods’ principle,” Bender said.

In its coalition agreement from November 2021, the German government already committed to pushing for a system that fades out direct payments and “rewards climate and environmental services”.

The same was called for by a stakeholder commission made up of farmers’ representatives, environmentalists, researchers, and more. In its 2021 final report, the body called to completely phase out area-based direct payments within the CAP.

During Friday’s ministers’ meeting, several regional ministers from various parties also called for Germany to lobby for the introduction of a ‘public goods premium’ that should replace direct payments.

Germany wants EU to prepare farm funds for enlargement

In the next funding period, from 2028 onwards, the EU must prepare its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to accommodate Ukraine and other EU candidate countries, according to German top farming ministry official Silvia Bender.

Devil in the details

But despite this apparent unity, views differ on the question of what exactly should count as a public service.

“We need to define what public goods are,” Bender stressed. While, currently, food security is enshrined as the number one goal of the CAP, other objectives such as climate and environmental protection should take centre stage, she said.

But for others, producing food, and thus contributing to food security, is already a public service in itself. According to this understanding, production- or area-based payments could be compatible with a public goods approach.

The German Farmers’ Union, for instance, called to gear the EU’s agricultural policy more strongly towards food sovereignty in a position paper published ahead of the ministers’ meeting.

Meanwhile, EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has also shown little sympathy for the idea of moving away from direct payments.

In a recent interview with EURACTIV, Wojciechowski called to keep CAP funding focused on supporting farmers’ income and not stretch it too thin by “spending money from the CAP for other targets.”

“The CAP should be, first of all, a budget for farmers,” he stressed.

Agriculture Commissioner: CAP budget ‘too small’ to face future crises

A stronger budget must bolster the next Common Agricultural Policy to face future crises, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told EURACTIV in an interview, stressing the need to equip farmers with more crisis management tools.