The EU has often been criticised for slow decisionmaking. Seen from outside it seems incomprehensible. Seen from within, however, it looks like fights between members of the same family. We are paying the price for the mistake that was made in not organising the Union with decision-making rules that were capable of advancing as new member states joined.
This premise enables us to understand what is happening with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). On one side of the “family quarrel” stand the young people who have been protesting in recent years, environmental associations, new MEPs and even the Environment Commissioner. On the other, the farming lobbies, the industrial food producers and the Agriculture Commissioner. We wrote about this in a previous newsletter.
The result of this clash is not painless. We can see this in the reaction of the environmentalist world which, when the Green Deal for Europe was approved, had imagined an immediate change in EU policies, including the CAP. Disappointment came on 23 October when the European Parliament approved the new CAP which, if applied, will make it impossible to respect the Paris accords and avoid climate collapse.
This means the continuation of a scheme that leads to the degradation of the environment and human health. Additional evidence for this is the EC’s authorization for the next ten years of the import of Bayer’s XtendFlex genetically modified soya. This soya has been developed to resist three major herbicides: dicamba, glufosinate-ammonium and glyphosate. In Europe production of this soya is banned, but it is allowed in Brazil, Argentina and Canada, which are growing it to supply the European market. In other words, others are allowed to use pesticides which have a negative impact on the environment and on biodiversity, provided it happens outside our borders.
Returning to the CAP, the agriculture ministers of the EU State Members, including the Italian minister, are “satisfied”, at least according to the assessment the minister presented to the Italian Parliament’s agriculture committee which stressed the creation of naturally flexible eco-schemes (!), excluding rice (!). This continues the old approach of protecting the economic interests of some while damaging health and the environment. Exactly the same as what is happening throughout the EU with Covid-19.
In short, the EU farming ministers have put aside the loss of biodiversity, degradation of soils and climate change and continue to support industrial farming (with all its consequences for the environment) and to provide subsidies on the basis of size while penalising small and medium-sized farms, that is, the very ones that use traditional and organic farming methods. They are not facing up to the transition towards a sustainable system of food production, one that is social and ecological.
On the other hand, however, we had never seen such a high-level discussion with a group of determined parliamentarians (Green and other) asking for the withdrawal of the current CAP. President of the Commission Ursula Von der Leyen pointed out that the recently unveiled Farm to Fork (F2F) and Biodiversity Strategies, both embedded in the Green Deal, promote a more sustainable and healthy food system and that those objectives should be embedded in the new CAP. That is, to reduce nutrient losses by at least 50% (especially nitrogen and phosphorus), while ensuring that there is no deterioration in soil fertility; to reduce the use of fertilisers by at least 20% and the overall use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50%; and to increase the areas reserved for organic farming from 8% to 25%. She also recognised that the CAP proposal currently under discussion was adopted under the previous Commission mandate and that her cabinet endorsed it in line with the principle of “institutional continuity”.
Consequently she does not accept the withdrawal of the current CAP text. This is like saying “We keep hitting our fingers with the hammer, but we hope to miss sometimes”.
There is no need to feel frustrated or even complain about “the nth missed opportunity”; rather we can and must double down on our efforts to bring about change. If today Mrs Von der Leyen is moving away, at least in words, from the previous Commission (which – let us not forget – refused for 5 years to take any action to deal with the environment or social inclusion!) then change is underway and will be irreversible, regardless of continuing family fights.