Common Agricultural Policy or CAP is something that the majority of people know little or nothing about, but it shapes our lives nonetheless. In recent years the focus of CAP has moved from just supporting farm incomes to to also focusing on the environment. This has been seen as a step in the right direction, but the way this process must occur is complex and volatile.
Agriculture and farming life has always been a part of Irish life. Almost everyone can trace their origin back to a farm, it is deeply ingrained into the Irish identity.Along with this agriculture is a large part of the Irish economy, agriculture contributed 944 million euro to Ireland’s GDP in the fourth quarter of 2020.
CAP consists of two pillars, the first pillar is for direct payments to supplement farm income. The second pillar provides money for rural development. In the current CAP negotiations there are changes in the amount of money for eco-schemes. This is part of the larger effort to combat climate change.
The European Parliament is prompting that 30% of the direct payments from the first pillar should be allocated to eco-schemes. This is in contrast to the original recommendation of the European Council of Agricultural ministers of 20%. A meeting of the was held on Monday the 26th by the council to examine and explore the possibility to compromise and allocate 25% of the funds to eco-schemes.
The compromise that is being explored is a step by step approach, not revolutionary in Europe. The Council proposes to gradually increase the budget for eco schemes from 22% in 2023 to 25% in 2025. There is also a proposal of a two year learning or transition period to ensure funds are not wasted if uptake is low. This has been accepted by most ministers but there are still concerns.
Charlie McConagloe , minister for agriculture food and the marine, a farmer himself expressed reservations. He said in a press release; “Ireland accepted the minimum 20% contribution from the direct payments envelope to eco-schemes as part of the Council General Approach agreed last October. We simply cannot consider the issue of the percentage allocation in isolation. There are far too many other issues that farmers must contend with which are still unresolved, including convergence, redistribution, capping and allocations to young farmers. We do not yet have certainty on any of these.”
Minister McConagloe went on to state that the parliament must consider the changes and reflections of the council;“In the absence of any sense that the Parliament is willing to accept these flexibilities, combined with the fact that we have no resolution of the direct payment targeting proposals, I am unable to consider any changes in the ECO scheme percentage. I also want to see the maximum possible flexibility given to Member States to design Eco-schemes in a way deemed most appropriate for their own farming conditions.” There are many strains on the agriculture budget, not least the passing on of farms from one generation to the next but the environment is the most pressing issue.
Without combatting the climate and limiting the climate crisis there will be no farms for the next generation. The reluctance to allow for this allocation feeds the narrative the farmers and the agricultural community are against the environment and changes that are needed to save and preserve it. The exact opposite is true, farmers are custodians of the land and nurturers of nature. They see the changes in our climate first hand everyday and are some of the most passionate advocates for environmental protection.
The negotiations will continue about various elements of CAP over the next few weeks. The decisions made around the allocation of money for eco- schemes will determine the course for agriculture in Europe over the next number of years.