Brussels briefing: Hudec voices CAP future doubts
Published 17/08/2016 | 02:30
Brussels may be in the midst of a traditional summer lull, but not everyone has fled the city.
Officials from Slovakia, which took over the EU's six-monthly rotating presidency on July 1, have stayed behind to prepare the autumn's packed agenda.
For Matej Hudec, head of the agricultural policy section at Slovakia's EU embassy, one of the most pressing items of business is the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The first challenge for the CAP will come with the mid-term review of the EU's long-term budget.
The EU currently spends just over ¤55b a year on the CAP and will continue to do so until 2020. Ireland gets around 1.5b a year of the total.
While the envelopes are unlikely to change when the budget is reviewed this autumn, the looming threat of Brexit and the ongoing refugee crisis will push agriculture further down the priority list.
Despite the EU creating €2.5b emergency funds for the dairy and other stressed sectors in the last year, Mr Hudec says he is not optimistic for the CAP under the EU's next long-term budget post-2020.
"[Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker is giving priority to other sectors," Mr Hudec told the Farming Independent from his Brussels office. "I don't see him giving a lot of priority to agriculture."
France has already taken the lead on CAP talks by tabling a discussion paper in May, calling for more of a focus on crisis management.
French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll is hoping to take his ideas further at a conference for EU farming ministers on September 2 at the historic Chambord Castle in the Loire valley.
Three days later, Cork City will host a conference marking the 20 year anniversary of the seminal Cork declaration on rural development, while EU agriculture ministers will reunite the following week in Slovakia for an informal meeting, though ministers won't formally discuss the future of the CAP until their October meeting in Brussels.
They will then address the issue of CAP funding for environmental protection, known as "greening". The discussion follows the allegation by 115 climate NGOs earlier this year that the EU food and farming system is "largely broken" and that greening money has had no real impact.
"We are afraid these environmentalists will somehow try to jeopardise the budget," said Mr Hudec.
Italians' Boar War
Italian farmers are fighting a wild boar invasion they say is decimating crops and leading to a rural exodus.
Agricultural union Coldiretti estimates the boar population has doubled in 10 years and now numbers almost a million.
They describe the animals as an “army besieging the Italian countryside” and estimate they cost farmers ¤100m last year. The boars also pose a threat to regional motorists, with Coldiretti saying they were responsible for the deaths of 18 people last year and injured a further 145.
Thousands of farmers rallied in Florence earlier this month to call for an overhaul of Italy’s rural laws and full compensation for damages. “It is now more than just a matter of compensation, it has become a matter of personal safety,” Coldiretti said in a statement.
A recent report by the European Commission's in-house think-tank echoes the environmentalists' call for a "fitness check" of the CAP.
The report, 'Sustainability Now', points to the dominance of large-scale farms and calls for a rerouting of CAP payments towards environmental protection.
"Monetary benefits still largely go to large intensive farming practice," says the report, penned by the Commission president's Senior Advisor for Sustainable Development, Karl Falkenberg. "Planning the next agricultural reform, more attention should be placed on sustainability, and strengthening rural development support type instead of direct payments linked to acreage."
Nikolai Pushkarev, a policy coordinator on food, drink & agriculture at the European Public Health Alliance, said the sustainability report is "a long overdue admission that all is not well in food and farming".
He singled out the Commission's recent climate change proposals for criticism, saying they fall "far short of addressing the contribution of intensive livestock farming to climate change". "We can't afford to continue eating as if there is no tomorrow. Concrete action is needed to ensure that agriculture is not let off the hook in terms of reducing emissions."