The European Union concludes an agreement on farm subsidies

European Union negotiators have reached an interim agreement on reforms to the bloc’s massive agricultural support programme, introducing new measures aimed at protecting small farms and reducing the environmental impact of farming.

The deal ends a nearly three-year struggle over the future of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy.

It will use nearly a third of the EU’s 2021-2027 budget, spending €387 billion on payments to farmers and support for rural development.

Representatives of the EU Member States and the European Parliament reached the agreementBut it must be formally approved by agriculture ministers and the European Parliament.

It aims to divert money from intensive agricultural practices to protecting nature, and curb 10% of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

The new CAP rules apply from 2023 and do not cover post-Brexit Britain.

«At some points we may have wished for a different outcome, but overall I think we can be satisfied with the agreement we have reached,» EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojcickowski said in a tweet.

«Today’s agreement begins a real shift towards a greener and fairer Common Agricultural Policy,» European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Twitter.

«It’s not perfect, but it’s still a huge step in the right direction.»

However, the Irish Farmers’ Association called the interim agreement «a bad deal for Irish farmers».

«The combined effects of the proposal will wipe out a group of farmers in Ireland,» said Tim Cullinan, president of the International Fruit Association.

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«The minister should push for more flexibility for the farmers here,» he said.

“The Irish government will also have to meet its national co-financing commitments, and a €1.5 billion in carbon tax in order to protect the viability of tens of thousands of farmers.

“The EU Agriculture Commissioner, Janusz Wojczykowski, has done nothing to protect farmers and food production in these talks. Franz Timmermans, Vice-President of the EU Commission, was dumbfounded.

«The EU Commission continues to tell us that it will conduct an impact assessment of the Green Deal and farm-to-fork strategies before legislating any aspects of them. However, they have tried to include them in the CAP reform through the back door.»

«Farmers are being asked to do more and more for less and less,» said the International Council on Agricultural Culture (ICSA).

ICSA President Dermot Kelleher said: “Many farmers will become less viable due to direct reductions in payment, and then are expected to devote more hours to providing public goods in the areas of climate change and biodiversity.

«This CAP reform has also been marked by the extent to which the farmers’ voice has been marginalized.»

Earlier, before the deal was announced, the Food and Drug Administration’s International Board said the agreement would make farmers «climate resilient» for both consumers and businesses.

ICMSA President Pat McCormack said the reforms «to put it mildly» are likely to be a disaster for Irish farmers and the rural economy that depends on them.

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Bargaining over aspects of climate change

Activists and some politicians said the deal failed to align agriculture with EU goals to combat climate change, warning that many green measures were weak or made optional for member states to require farmers to switch to environmentally friendly methods.

According to a draft agreement seen by Reuters, the deal will require countries to spend 20% of payments to farmers from 2023 to 2024, rising to 25% of payments between 2025-2027, on «environmental schemes» that protect the environment. The final agreement has not been published.

Examples could include restoring wetlands to absorb carbon dioxide, or organic farming, although the rules did not specify what would count as an environmental scheme.

Any money below those limits that were not spent on environmental schemes should be spent on green measures in other regions instead.

Other agreements included rules requiring EU countries to redistribute at least 10% of CAP funds to small farms. Countries can avoid this requirement if they use other methods of equitably distributing funds.

All farmers’ payments will be tied to compliance with environmental rules, such as allocating 4% of arable land to areas where nature can thrive, or rotating crops annually to promote soil health.

A call to reduce emissions

EU auditors said this week that the current Common Agricultural Policy was failing to reduce emissions. EU emissions from agriculture, half of which come from livestock, have not fallen since 2010.

The 27 EU member states agreed to overhaul the Common Agricultural Policy in October, but had to agree with MEPs on the details.

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«We were keen to strike a balance between the economic development of the farms and the necessary protection of the environment and climate,» said center-right MEP Anne Sander, who was a key player in the deal.

«Some people sometimes lose sight of the fact that without farm income, there will be no environmental and climate sustainability,» she added.

One of the most contentious discussions of biodiversity requirements was with environmentalists angry that the obligations placed on farmers did not go any further.

The World Wildlife Fund complained that the resolve originally shown by MEPs ended up being «a mirage».

She added that the agreement gave the agricultural bloc member states «full satisfaction».

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