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.
Eight countries, most of which are in the Western Balkans, are currently EU accession candidates. The latest additions were Ukraine and Moldova which were granted the status in June 2022, four months after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The biggest country in Europe in terms of area and an important exporter of grain, oilseeds, and increasingly also poultry meat, post-accession Ukraine would be a major beneficiary of CAP payments – especially the so-called direct payments, which are administered per farmed hectare.
“Of course, the question is whether the accession of the candidate countries will really take place in the next funding period,” Bender said at an event on Tuesday (21 March).
Regardless, when designing the next CAP, future EU enlargement must be taken into account, she added, pointing to some of the countries needing “faster accession prospects in order to be stabilised domestically”.
Both in the area of rural development and in the basic structure of support from 2028 onwards, she said, “we need to think about how we can include the accession candidates and integrate them into European agricultural policy”.
Direct payments no longer viable
In Bender’s view, enlargement could have major ramifications for how the CAP is structured in the future.
For example, funding direct payments for so many additional farms is likely to pose significant challenges to the multi-billion subsidy programme.
“If Ukraine were to join, then a system of direct payments as we have it today would definitely no longer work,” the State Secretary said.
Norbert Röder from the Thünen Institute, which advises the German Agriculture Ministry, said at the event that should Ukraine join before the start or during the next funding period, “then we are talking about a different agricultural policy”.
The CAP budget is not sufficient to extend the existing area payments to Ukraine, he said. “Then it has to be assessed on the basis of other criteria – that is a challenge.”
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Adapting to EU standards
From the perspective of Ukraine and the other candidate countries, adapting to EU production standards also poses a challenge.
Ukraine, for example, has so far relied heavily on intensive production methods, while Brussels, as part of its European Green Deal commitments, is making increasingly high demands on agriculture when it comes to environmental and climate protection.
The ministry is taking measures to support the countries locally in adapting to the EU’s requirements, Bender said.
She also pointed to the steps already taken to open the EU market for Ukrainian agricultural imports as a first step towards integrating Ukrainian producers.
A few months after the start of the Russian invasion, the EU decided to suspend import duties and quotas on agricultural products from Ukraine in order to strengthen the country’s economy and facilitate grain exports.
Sebastian Lakner, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Rostock, also pointed out that there are many structurally weak regions with small farms in Ukraine and Moldova – a fact that must be considered in the future distribution of farm funds.
In the expert’s view, one solution could be to fix fewer rules at the EU level, while giving the member states and regions more freedom to adapt measures to local conditions.
“In this respect, we have to allow heterogeneity,” he stressed.
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