European farmers descend to Strasbourg to protest planned CAP reform

Hundreds of farmers are planning a demonstration in front of the European Parliament on Tuesday, calling for fewer direct payments to large industrial farms under the proposed revision of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

An alliance of seven environmental and agricultural organisations have planned a protest at the start of the third plenary session of the newly-elected EU Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday (22 October).

Hundreds of farmers and activists from Germany and France want to park their tractors in front of the Parliament building in Strasbourg and hand over their demands in person.

They will be protesting the CAP’s current draft. “The demonstration should be a signal to the Parliament, but also to the Commission, that the current draft of the new CAP urgently needs to be revised, says Saskia Richartz, the German spokesperson of the Good Food Good Farming alliance. “The new scientific findings of the latest IPCC reports must also be taken into account,” she told.

The demonstration marks the end of a month of Europe-wide protests against the CAP’s current text. Last year, numerous actions had already taken place in 19 member states and a petition with 114,000 signatures had been handed over to the agriculture ministers of the EU.

Once again, the alliance is calling for the CAP’s re-orientation to support a greater supply of local foods. “Farmers continue to produce for the global market far too often, rather than for their own region. This is not sustainable,” Richartz said.

The alliance also demands that livestock farming be species-appropriate and in smaller herds and that more funds to protect arable lands and restrict pesticide use be unlocked.

“But the biggest issue is that of direct payments, as these primarily support large farms instead of the small and medium-sized farms, which make up the bulk of the sector,” said Richartz. According to the alliance, direct payments need to be gradually reduced, starting with the redistribution of 50% of the funds to both pillars under the CAP.

Currently, the first pillar area-based payments account for around 70% to 80% of the total budget, averaging 40% of the income of European farmers.

According to the demonstrators, the new draft of the CAP draft lacks binding guidelines for environmental protection. The planned “improved conditionality,” which links the CAP’s area-based direct payments to certain conditions, is “so broadly diversified that it does not contribute to the necessary restructuring of the agricultural sector,” according to Richartz.

For instance, lump sums to renovate stables are granted without checking whether the implemented measures are climate-friendly or not.

In Richartz’s view, the newly-gained leeway that member states should have in the allocation of funds also represents a risk.

“It makes sense to adapt measures to local conditions. But given that states can set their own priorities, we fear that climate projects will be watered down,” she added.

Farmers’ lobby critical of new conditions

The CAP negotiations between the EU Parliament and the Council have not yet been concluded, and an agreement does not appear to be in immediate reach. Among other things, there is still disagreement regarding the planned payments linked to the preservation of ecosystems.

Some EU member states intend to introduce them as a voluntary measure. Italy, for instance, would like to obtain an exemption for small businesses. Moreover, negotiations on what requirements farmers should meet to receive direct payments are still underway.

The European agricultural lobby Copa-Cogeca rejects increasing requirements for direct payments. If the CAP budget were cut at the same time, this would be “unacceptable”, the organisation wrote in an official statement in response to the Commission’s proposal on the CAP.

“This will lead to considerable income losses for farmers and significantly limit the possibilities of ecological measures in the second pillar,” the association feared.

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