As long as there are ‘equal’ and ‘more equal’ farmers within the EU, its Eastern member states will be giving up farming and abandoning rural areas, a group of 65 EU lawmakers warned in a letter addressed to the presidents of the bloc’s top institutions.
The lawmakers mentioned the most famous line of George Orwell’s timeless classic ‘Animal Farm’ to describe the need for a fair distribution of direct payments in the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), on a par with other European countries.
“Fed up with this concept of ‘more-equals among equals’, we, therefore, call […] to put an end to this embarrassing discrimination, to ensure equal treatment of all European farmers, and to ensure compliance with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,” the letter says.
According to the MEPs, the unbalance in direct payments that Eastern farmers are experiencing is at the root of the “disastrous rural desertification” and falling numbers of farmers, weakening a sector with a strong historical and economic value for rural areas.
The signatories complained about the failure to implement the concept of external convergence introduced in the 2013 CAP reform to bridge differences in the average support per hectare after the Eastern enlargement.
This process was designed to gradually allow equal direct payments for all the member states.
However, the letter highlights that this “transitional” period for Eastern farmers to catch up with the others has turned “permanent”, as the conditions and support offered to farmers by the CAP still vary considerably, depending on the member states where they are farming, with no justification.
The concept of convergence itself has recently faced criticism by some EU countries who oppose including this in the next CAP.
A non-paper circulating at last December’s Agrifish Council said that a CAP with any further external convergence will jeopardize modernisation plans and distort the functioning of the internal market.
There is nothing fair or effective about equalising income support per hectare across all EU countries, the document argued
Under pressure from East European countries, Finland’s EU presidency introduced a new criterion on external convergence binding member states to guarantee a minimum level of aid per hectare of direct payments by 2027.
In his latest proposal, European Council President Charles Michel scrapped this controversial criterion but the game is not over yet as the European Commission is expected to put forward an updated multi-annual financial framework proposal (MFF) by the end of the month.
The reshuffle of the MFF deck could be a game-changer for convergence too.