On everyone’s plate

The recently published communication by the European Commission – titled “The future of Food and Farming” aims to reply to the public consultation launched earlier this year. It is supposed to give the public a clearer indication as to what will drive the big decisions of its General Directorate for Agriculture and Rural Development, currently guided by Commissioner Phil Hogan.

The common agricultural policy (CAP) is the oldest EU’s policy, once desperately needed to feed the hungry and destroyed post World Word II Europe, but that now needs to adapt to the global pressures the agri-food sector is facing.  Bearing in mind the outcomes of the public consultation and the developments at a global level, the future CAP must address better issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, different risks and price volatility. It also needs to become simpler, less bureaucratic and to be more result driven.

During his announcement speech the Commissioner stated clearly “It is not a revolution but an evolution.” He acknowledged that the EU food and farming system is changing and that it needs to head towards more sustainability, simplicity and flexibility.

So what are the main ingredients of this “hot out the oven” recipe for #FutureofCAP?

  1. New Delivery Model and Simpler CAP– The public consultation and previous experience clearly showed that one-size-fits-all approach to the CAP does not work. In practice (as stated by the EC) the New Deliver model proposed will bring the opportunity for each MS to choose which particular mix of measures works best for them and to ensure that they meet the stringent targets set at the EU level. The MSs will set out how they intend to achieve their goals in CAP strategic plans, which need to be approved by the European Commission. They will also be much more accountable for performance monitoring and reporting.
  2. Direct Payments – While the support for farmers will continue through the system of direct payments (II pillar structure stays as is) , the way they are currently distributed will be revisited in order to ensure that the payments within and between member states are more fairly distributed and better targeted.
  3. Smart CAP – One of the key points in the communication is the necessity to invest more in “smart agriculture”. The strengthening of farm advisory services for farmers and the full implementation of geospatial aid applications will get further support.
  4. Research and Innovation – The communication poses greater emphasis on the need to invested in R&I, development of new tools and modern technologies to help farmers produce more with less, support them on the ground and provide greater market transparency and certainty.
  5. Resilience – A crucial point for many farmers across the EU is becoming more resilient and managing better the risks associated to production and the markets. The communication proposed creating an EU-level platform on risk management on how best to help farmers cope with the uncertainty of climate, market volatility and other risks.
  6. Climate and environment – Stringent new goals will be set at European level to ensure farming contributes fully to helping meet the EU’s international commitments on climate change and sustainability.
  7. Rural Areas – The CAP will continue to support the rural areas as well as farmers through support of new rural value chains such as clean energy, the emerging bio-economy, the circular economy and ecotourism, with investments in infrastructure, natural and human capital, including vocational training, education and by assuring greater connectivity (broadband etc). “Smart villages”, as an emerging concept, will help communities address issues of inadequate infrastructures and employment opportunities. #EU4SmartVillages
  8. Generational Renewal – Is one of the main priorities for the future CAP. The communication acknowledged that more needs to be done to help encourage young people to take up farming, including a more coherent approach with each member state. It also proposes that the support to the new generation of farmers could be combined with the appropriate incentives to facilitate the exit of the older generation and the transfer of knowledge among generations as well as to increase land mobility and facilitate succession planning.
  9. Citizens’ Concerns – The future CAP will place a greater emphasis on addressing citizens’ concerns regarding sustainable agricultural production, including health, nutrition, food waste and animal welfare. The future CAP will therefore help farmers anticipate developments in dietary habits and adjust their production according to market signals and consumers’ demands.
  10. Trade – The communication underlined that further liberalisation of trade and increased participation in global value chains will allow the EU agri-food sector to develop exports even further, responding to growing demand worldwide, as well as dietary changes. It placed a great emphasis on the fact that high standards of the EU will in no case be compromised in trade deals and that EU, through its different cooperation and technical assistance tools will foster increased cooperation with EU partner countries and regions, in particular when facing new and emerging animal health and phytosanitary threats.
  11. Migration – A new ingredient that was particularly addresses was the role of CAP in helping to settle and integrate legal migrants, refugees in particular, into rural communities – underlining that Community-Led Local Development/LEADER program is particularly apt for this.

Of course the recipe did not excite the taste buds of everyone.

While most appreciated the push for a more sustainable and resilient sector, many fear that the proposed reform won’t assure a real simplification and that the “New Delivery model” might be an attempt from the EC to “wash away” some of its responsibility. This due to the fact that EU member states and farmers often complain (rightfully so) about the complexity of the CAP. Current practices place a heavy bureaucratic burden on farmers, which often don’t have sufficient expertise (or time on their hands) to deal with the large amounts of paperwork required to comply with EU requirements.

The Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan addressed these concerns instantly by saying that the ‘Common’ in Common Agricultural Policy is there to stay, underlining that the reform aims to increase the accountability of Member States to deliver concrete results, while the policy per se and the setting of overall objectives will remain at the EU-level. Therefore, it remains to be seen in which way precisely the responsibilities between the Commission and the governments will be divided and what effects that will have on the implementation of the national programmes.

Apart from the fears that the simplification will take place more in the institutions than on the farms many concerns have been expresses also in regards to  how the direct payments will become more targeted and how in practical terms the EU intends to support the farmers to produce even more sustainably and climate friendly, while still making a living. These particular concerns are currently further enhanced by the fears of losing substantial part of the funds for agriculture in the next MFF due to Brexit and prioritization of other policy areas such as security, defense and migration.

What’s next?

The Commissioner couldn’t comment to much on the budget concerns as the budget business is under the responsibility of Commissioner Oettinger. He explained that the full legislative proposals on how to concretely meet the goals outlined in this communication will be put forward by the Commission in the first half of 2018, once the proposal on the EU’s seven-year budget post-2020 (the MFF) has been published.