As the co-legislators struggle to move forward on the CAP reform, the Green Deal is emerging as the number one priority, perhaps even the single priority, of the European Commission. The question is: should we make the CAP more “green” or should we use the Green Deal to reshape the CAP completely? The first option seems have been chosen, and that is a real pity.
The Agriculture Council of Ministers is working hard on the CAP reform. Several points of contention remain open. The same goes for the European Parliament. But why is this surprising? The national plans and greening measures are such difficult issues, but they are nothing compared to the budgetary impasse faced by the EU, with the now certain departure of the British who, along with Germany, France and the Netherlands, were one of the few net contributors to the Union budget.
The anticipated reform of the CAP is definitely impacted by the recent publication of the Green Deal. Can we reform the CAP in a business-as-usual spirit, without integrating it in the comprehensive package known as the Green Deal? Certainly not! It is for this reason – and totally logical – that the Commission Communication of 11 December entitled “The European Green Deal” suggests, but in reality demands, that the revised CAP is “likely to be delayed to the beginning of 2022.”
A business-as-usual CAP or a new CAP?
One of the chapters of the Green Deal Communication addresses the CAP in the more general context of the “Farm to Fork” strategy. The paper informs us that the Commission will in spring 2020 present a package of measures reassessing the environmental dimension of national CAP plans and reducing “significantly the use and risk of chemical pesticides, as well as the use of fertilisers and antibiotics.” Moreover, the Commission underlines that “there are new opportunities for all operators in the food value chain…New technologies and scientific discoveries, combined with increasing public awareness and demand for sustainable food, will benefit all stakeholders.” This is a positive signal for our professions.
But at the same time, the encouraging signals sent by the new Commission (even before it was formally sworn in) as regards the need to revisit the question of NBTs, following the unfavourable ruling of the EU Court of Justice, appear to be postponed. Reappraisal of the NBT issue, included in the initial versions of the 11 December Communication, seems to have been removed from the final text. There is no longer any mention of an in-depth study by the Commission to be submitted to the co-legislators by April 2021.
The provisions of the Green Deal devoted to the CAP do not call into question the foundations of the latter and demonstrate – in our view – a striking lack of imagination. In a way, they perpetuate current positions. They strongly encourage consumers and citizens to get involved in the shaping of the agricultural model, but do not offer any new prospects – no concrete prospects in any case – to the agricultural world. The very important question of irrigation is passed over in silence, as is the creditor role of agriculture in the carbon tax. The budgetary difficulties of the Common Agricultural Policy are intolerable at all times, but bearable if we take into account the key role of the agriculture and forestry sector in the limiting of CO2 emissions. Creating a carbon tax system with debits and credits would be to the clear advantage of farming and primary processing food industries. It should therefore be supported.
A Green Deal disconnected from its global dimension
The term “brain death” used by one of the main EU leaders to describe NATO applies especially well to World Trade Organization. After three years of the Trump Administration, the WTO is dying by a thousand cuts, with the abandonment of multilateral negotiations – the very essence of the WTO – in favour of bilateral (i.e. inter-state) negotiations being the first sign. The second sign, even stronger, comes from the refusal by the US to appoint appeal judges, without which the organ for resolving disputes cannot function. This paralysis of the WTO gives the European Union a major opportunity.
We know that the current CAP is built upon the concepts of the Uruguay Round, in other word upon a system that opens up the EU market (without any customs duties or restrictions in tonnage or time) to cereal substitution products like soya and corn gluten feed. It is this disastrous system negotiated at the GATT that has drastically lowered EU agricultural prices and is leading the Union to grant massive subsidies without guaranteeing farmers a respectable income.
By calling into question the agricultural provisions of the WTO and by renegotiating the most destructive elements, the European Union will be able to equip itself with a genuine Common Agricultural Policy that strongly links produce to its natural territories and allows farmers to make a decent living from their work.