Austrians lend support to coalition opposed to post-2020 CAP cuts

Austrian agriculture minister Elisabeth Köstinger wants CAP spending frozen at current levels
Austrian agriculture minister Elisabeth Köstinger wants CAP spending frozen at current levels

Sarah Collins

Austria will fight for farm spending post-2020, despite pushing for an overall EU budget cut.

The country's agriculture minister, Elisabeth Köstinger, told the Farming Independent that she wants to "maintain" the same budget for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the EU's 2021-27 spending plan.

"The heads of state will make the final decision on the EU budget," said Ms Köstinger, who currently chairs EU farm ministers' meetings. "However, as minister of agriculture, I will work to maintain the CAP budget."

Austria, one of the bloc's budget hawks, wants an overall cut to the EU's trillion-euro seven-year budget. But with 87pc of Austrian farms in mountainous or difficult-to-reach areas, the government is also keen to keep farm subsidies and rural development money at current levels.

The minister joins around 20 of her EU colleagues in pushing for CAP spending to be frozen at current levels (around €56bn a year for the EU as a whole). The European Commission has suggested cutting the budget by 5pc post-2020.

With Brexit, migration and other priorities weighing on EU spending plans, agriculture chief Phil Hogan says governments will have to stump up any extra cash they want for the CAP.

The European Commission is also overhauling how and why farm subsidies are paid, linking them to environmental, animal welfare and other EU goals.

Ms Köstinger, whose full title is minister for sustainability and tourism, said that while European farmers face "major challenges", they also need to boost their climate credentials.

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"Beyond its primary function, agricultural activities shape the landscape, the sustainable management of natural resources, and the preservation of biological diversity," she said.

"Climate protection and the adaptation to climate change become more and more important. No doubt that the CAP has to deliver in that sense as well."

However, she said she prefers "a continuous evolution to radical changes" in the way the CAP works. "The CAP has constantly evolved since its introduction more than 50 years ago. Its initial objectives, however, still remain valid."

Priority list

Top of Ms Köstinger's priority list between now and December - while Austria holds the bloc's six-monthly rotating presidency - is to agree new rules on "unfair trading practices" such as late payments, giving farmers more power in their dealings with buyers. MEPs, however, want to go further than the draft rules, catching large producers, as well as supermarket giants, in the net.

She said "a fair standard of living for farmers" is her priority. "We are aware that the Parliament would like to see larger producers covered by the directive. We are looking forward to working together with the European Parliament and all stakeholders involved in order to find an appropriate answer to this question."


Million sign ­petition to end pig mutilation

MORE than a million EU citizens have signed a petition to end pig mutilation and abuse, which activists say is still rampant across the continent.

Footage released by the Eurogroup for Animals organisation shows piglets being castrated without pain relief, a sick sow being bludgeoned to death, and the overuse of electric prods.

The group says more than 90pc of Europe’s pigs end up having their tails docked simply because they live in cramped quarters. Recent investigations in Italy have found severe mistreatment of pigs bred for Parma ham.

The petition is calling on farm ministers and the European Commission to stop all pig mutilations and ensure animal welfare rules are properly implemented.


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