Green-painted pseudo-guidelines don’t help farmers.
By Renate Künast and Martin Häusling
Parliamentarians and heads of government from across the EU are currently wrestling over the Union’s powerful agricultural policy for the next seven years. Effective not only because of the budget of almost 40 percent of the EU budget earmarked for it, but also with regard to many pressing challenges such as the climate crisis, biodiversity, water and soil protection, sustainable nutrition and the structure of rural areas.
Food and feed production is responsible for about 27 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and about 70 percent of biodiversity losses. In Germany, too, the loss of species is dramatic. The partridge, which was otherwise ubiquitous in cultivated landscapes, is a sad indicator of large-scale biological impoverishment of our landscape. At the same time, soil degradation, nitrate pollution in groundwater, and an ever-increasing vulnerability of the agricultural system to climate change are giving us a hard time.
All of these developments are threatening cracks in the foundation of our ecosystems, which form the basis of our food supply. For years, there have been repeated attempts to combat symptoms of the sick system with technology and chemicals, but now the crisis is upon us. Shouldn’t this effective billion-dollar program of public money finally be redirected toward sustainability? This is the view of the Environment Agency and the EU’s Court of Auditors, among others. Both agree: Biodiversity on agricultural land is in steep decline; the Common Agricultural Policy has failed miserably to meet its biodiversity targets. Countless other expert reports and warnings from the scientific community, several advisory councils of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and environmental associations, plead for a fundamental systemic change in support policy. Moreover, the largely area-based payments mainly benefit large farms and landowners, and together with the price pressure of agricultural markets have forced many smaller farms to give up.
A 2018 survey by the European Commission found that 68 percent of European farmers want to do more to promote sustainable agriculture. Necessary changes to support policies have been repeatedly blocked by conservative forces. The mantra-like argument that one does not want to burden farmers too much is more than specious. Because by green-painted pseudo-guidelines without effect no farmer is done a favor. On the contrary, this delaying tactic is delaying the urgently needed system change.
The goal must therefore be a long-term greening of agriculture with adequate, fair prices. Instead of land ownership, public welfare-oriented services should be rewarded that protect the climate, soil, water, partridges, etc. – with a future perspective for farmers.
A modern agricultural policy therefore needs strong basic requirements. Only a strong standard throughout the EU can initiate sustainable change. In addition, all farmers must be rewarded for effective, strong ecological performance through a common good premium. At least in terms of vision, this is what the Green Deal wants. The new sustainability flagship of the EU Commission sets important targets for the reduction of fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics with the Farm-to-Fork and the Biodiversity Strategy, while at the same time expanding organic farming to 25 percent of EU agricultural land. This is a good thing, because the state-run Thünen Institute only recently again attested to organic farming’s significantly higher performance in terms of species, water and soil protection. This is a farming system that is more resistant to crises and thus also contributes to food security.
The compromise proposals on agricultural policy presented under the leadership of Julia Klöckner are not only unambitious, they systematically torpedo all sensible objectives of the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategy. This is a clear rejection of the desire of European citizens and many farmers for more sustainable practices. And the hopeful seedling that Farm-to-Fork hints at is stifled.
The CDU/CSU, SPD and Liberals are acting in a similar way in the European Parliament. The EU Commission’s legislative proposal is being mercilessly watered down further here. The result is another seven years in the wrong direction. Always with the knowledge that an adaptation to the requirements of our time will be made considerably more difficult for the farmers. More cracks in the foundation would follow – not very good future prospects for climate, water, soil, partridge and co.
Even if the bill at EU level is weak, we in Germany can still make a difference.
We Die Grünen have presented a plan that provides for an ambitious Green Architecture in a first stage (from 2023-2024). Subsequently (2025-2027), target-oriented spending on public services is to increase steadily. At the beginning of the new funding period (2028-2030), a system change is to be completed, with full implementation starting in 2031. The pillar structure is to be dissolved by then, so that a fundamental transformation toward rewarding social services has been completed.
This plan for a consistent system change is in the interests of our farmers, biodiversity and future generations.
Renate Künast is spokeswoman for food and animal welfare for B90/Die Grünen im Bundestag and former Federal Minister of Agriculture.
Martin Häusling is agricultural policy spokesman for Die Grünen/EFA group in the European Parliament and has been an organic farmer for 40 years.