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New agricultural policy reform: How the agri-barons steamrollered the chance of improvement

Mikuláš Peksa:

The European Parliament approved the new wording of the reform to the common agriculture policy (CAP) of historical importance, awaited by the whole of Europe in breathless suspense. The new reform should have been a huge milestone for agriculture across Europe, which desperately needed to put on a new fairer and sustainable coat.   

But it didn’t happen. Despite all the promises and hopes, the new CAP is suspiciously similar to the previous one. The reform does contain a number of positive proposals, but in the overall context these are minimal. The large agricultural agri-businesses can enjoy another decade.

As Pirates we have consistently supported an agricultural policy for the 21st Century together with our colleagues in the Greens/EFA European group. I am therefore utterly disgusted by the (paradoxically toothless) monstrosity that has been tailor-made by the grand coalition of European socialist and people’s parties and Babiš’s Renew Europe faction. I could not endorse something like this, which ultimately only supports the industrial approach to agriculture promoted by the agri-barons.

The common agricultural policy is the second largest financial expenditure of the entire European Union and accounts for a full third of its budget. It therefore makes sense that something so important should manage European money sensibly with a fair consideration of the interests of all European citizens. Until now, however, the CAP, particularly in the eastern EU states, has served primarily as a tool for the accumulation of profits by the local agri-barons.

Given that in many Member States such agri-barons are even in government, it is not surprising that a number of useful proposals to help small and medium-sized farmers have been swiftly swept off the table by the EU Council of Ministers. Countries like the Czech Republic, where both Prime Minister Babiš and Agriculture Minister Toman are directly linked to large farms, have made it clear that if we want a better agricultural policy, we must first get rid of the agri-barons in the actual governments.

In order to cut agribusinesses off from the endless source of European subsidies, we have tried to push in the Parliament for a mandatory capping of direct payments at a fixed amount, as it is being done in some more responsible countries. However, after the approval of today’s reform, I can say with confidence that none of the other Member States are likely to agree to such a thing for another decade. Why should they, since it is still voluntary.

The same problem arises within individual Member States. Like the State Agricultural and Intervention Fund in the Czech Republic, also in other countries the decision to grant subsidies is made by state authorities. However, they are often completely non-transparent in the distribution of subsidies, so that it is no longer traceable where the money originally intended for smaller farmers ends up. But it does not always end up with them.

In fact, neither smaller businesses and farmers nor climate protection seem to be important to the coalition of MEPs who approved the reform. Our proposals to ensure that farmland is sufficiently protected against large-scale industrial plundering and that farmers use sustainable working practices did not make it into the final wording of the reform.

In much the same way, virtually none of the Green Deal’s objectives are included in the new reform, nor are important points arising from the new Farm to Fork strategy, which could, among other things, significantly reduce the amount of pesticides in food. This is an utter disgrace, because the largest expenditure in the European budget still takes no consideration of the fact that we are in a climate crisis.

The new reform of the Common Agricultural Policy will come into effect in 2023. With a bit of luck, the new, hopefully finally better, reform could come into effect in ten years’ time, if we get it right. But the question is whether it will be too late by then.


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