How should the environmental performance of EU farms be improved?
Strengthening EU biodiversity and meeting EU commitments under the Paris Agreement will become, on Parliament’s insistence, one of the objectives of the post-2022 EU farm policy.
MEPs also pushed for EU farm policy to be aligned more with the European Green Deal. They ensured that the Commission, when assessing proposed national CAP strategic plans, should also check that they are consistent and contribute to the European Union’s environmental and climate laws and commitments, and the 2030 targets set out in EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.
Negotiators agreed on enhanced conditionality, which, as a baseline requirement for receiving direct payments, is supposed to replace current greening and cross-compliance. Proposed new rules define nine so-called Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs), two more than in the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). GAECs should be mandatory for both member states and farmers.
MEPs ensured that at least 35% of the rural development budget will be allocated to all types of environmental and climate-related measures and at least 25% of the direct payments budget to eco-schemes. However, if farmers’ take-up of eco-schemes is low during the phase-in years of 2023 and 2024, member states will be allowed to re-allocate one fifth of unused eco-scheme funding per given year (5% of yearly national direct payments budget, maximum 10% of 2023-2024 budget) for other purposes. Any unused amounts beyond 5% of the national direct payments budget for those two years combined will have to be compensated.
Eco-schemes should be included in national strategic plans and incorporate practices beneficial to the environment, climate, and animal welfare. Although voluntary, farmers could increase their income if they decide to apply them. The Commission should draft an indicative list of such practices as guidance for national authorities.
What happens to ecological focus areas?
Introduced in the 2013 CAP reform, the current obligation to reserve 5% of the farm for so-called ecological focus areas (EFA) – such as land left fallow and buffer strips – should be transformed in the future CAP into a new GAEC measure. New rules would require farmers to dedicate at least 4% of their arable land to non-productive purposes and areas. If they want to include catch crops and nitrogen fixing crops, the share would have to go up to at least 7%, with 3% of the land dedicated to non-productive features or be left fallow and there would be a ban on using pesticides or on this land.
Farmers should be further encouraged to increase the landmass dedicated to promoting biodiversity, MEPs insisted throughout the negotiations. They ensured that if farmers under the paid eco-schemes devote at least 7% of their arable land to e.g. buffer strips, fallow land, hedges, non-productive trees, terrace walls and ponds, the mandatory GAEC requirement applicable to them would go down to 3%. This would bring more money to farmers and better protect the environment, MEPs believe.