The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been one of the European Union’s oldest and most highly funded sectors, but a decision made on October 23 by the European Parliament concerning the future of this policy has become the subject of much criticism by many high-profile environmentalists and organizations, including The European Green Party and Fridays for Future.  The European Green Party has made an online campaign over the past weeks to bring attention to the environmental issues brought on by the CAP, and have created the hashtag #WithdrawTheCAP in order to spread the message.

The European Green Party has also made copies of a letter available online to be sent directly to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urging her to withdraw the policy.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Firstly, one needs to have a bit of understanding on what exactly the Common Agricultural Policy is and what role it plays in the European Union.

The CAP was first introduced in 1962 to the European Union under the principles of agricultural market unity, community preference, and financial solidarity.  The goal was to provide all Member States with a common stable agricultural market, set food prices, and a guaranteed food supply to all EU citizens.  The CAP works through 3 measures; income support for EU farmers, market stability measures, and funds to maintain and develop rural communities.  The policy is part of the EU’s largest expenditure, taking up around one third of the total EU budget. 

But for all its ambitions, the issues of climate change and protection for biodiversity have been vastly overlooked.  The EU has been adamant over the past few administrations on the importance of resolving these environmental issues, but renewal of this policy serves as a revelation of their contradictory stance.  The European Green Party has been campaigning to make this contradictory policy better understood by the greater public in an effort to have the CAP made ‘greener’. 

Global Green News conducted an interview with the co-chair of the European Green Party, Thomas Waitz, and received statements from Green Party Members of the European Parliament, Grace O’Sullivan and Ciaran Cuffe, commenting on this campaign.

Lack of climate change action

One of the EU’s goals under the current Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is to create a climate-neutral continent by 2050, however, many believe that this CAP serves as an obstacle to this goal, when it could have been an asset.

Co-chair of the European Green Party, Thomas Waitz, explained, “(agriculture) is partly creating the problem, creating high amounts of CO2 emissions, methane emissions, nitrous oxide emissions…even the amount of gas needed to produce one kilo of artificial fertilizer …it’s very much on the polluters’ side”.

Member of the European Parliament, Grace O’Sullivan, also commented that, “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change evaluates that 23% of anthropogenic green house gas emissions originate from farming and forestry”. O’Sullivan goes on to illustrate the lack of environmental direction in this CAP: “There are no precise targets (for reduction of GHG, % of organic surfaces, etc…), which was one of the shortcomings of the current CAP highlighted by several EU Court of Auditors’ reports”.

Waitz claims that the opportunity was available for the EU Commission to accomplish their agricultural goals while fighting climate change through this CAP; “Especially the way we grow our crops, the potential that agriculture has on be part of the solution, not just reducing direct CO2 emissions from agriculture, but also secondary emissions”.  Waitz goes on to state that “This is a lost opportunity to make agriculture part of the solution rather than part of the problem”.

Waitz lists potential changes, such as soil carbon sequestration, the process of infusing CO2 directly into the soil, giving crops better ability to absorb and store water.  This method would preserve these crops in times of droughts and flooding, working towards the CAP’s overall goal of maintaining food levels for EU citizens, and reducing waste and ecosystem destruction from over-farming.  Though this opportunity would surely work towards the EU’s goal of becoming the biggest carbon-neutral entity in the world, it was not pursued by the EU in the renewal of the CAP.

“It’s a huge missed opportunity for tackling the climate crisis”

Thomas Waitz, co-chair of the European Green Party, Member of the European Parliament

The Green New Deal

The CAP has also been accused of not meeting the standards set by the New Green Deal both in lacking a sufficient plan to fight climate change, and protection for biodiversity threatened by expanding agriculture.  In 2010, the EU Commission set a goal to restore at least 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020, but this goal has not been met, and the agricultural industry has intensified across the continent.  Irish Member of the European Parliament, Ciaran Cuffe, told Global Green News that, “the European Court of Auditors found that the CAP has contributed to significant loss in biodiversity across the EU”.

MEP, Grace O’Sullivan commented to Global Green News, “The state of biodiversity on farmlands is disastrous. Close to a third of rural birds have disappeared, and close to 70% of insects”. The European Court of Auditors found that the new proposed CAP, although seeming to target the biodiversity loss, had gaps in its biodiversity strategy

According to the European Greens’ website, “Agriculture is at the crossroads of the challenges which the GND aims to tackle and at the heart of the ecological transformation our societies need to undergo”.  Cuffe stated, “We want a CAP that works in alignment with the EU Green Deal. There is no time to waste in the fight against climate change. If we are to see a carbon-neutral EU, then we need one of the EU’s cornerstone policies to support that goal and not actively undermine it”. 

Farmers in the EU

The European Greens have been attempting to make the greater public aware of what exactly they are campaigning for. EU citizens and especially farmers must understand that it is not a total cancellation of the CAP that the Greens want, as Ciaran Cuffe puts it: “We are not calling for a withdrawal of CAP with no replacement…We have already written to Commission President Von der Leyen making it clear in no uncertain terms that the CAP must align with the Green Deal”.

Grace O’Sullivan made it clear, “We do not think farmers should stop receiving support from the CAP, we think the CAP should be deeply reformed to answer the need of the current society and the demands of citizens and taxpayers”.

Thomas Waitz, himself a farmer, believes that years false information about the Green Party from conservatives has left EU farmers skeptical when it comes to ‘greening’ the CAP.  Waitz states, “After 30 years of propaganda from the conservatives… really enemy building…we are still the ‘enemy’.  We want to raise animal welfare, we think that reduction of meat in your consumption patterns is a good idea, we don’t want them using glyphosate…there’s a lot of topics where the farming sector is very critical of the Greens”. 

Despite this propaganda building from the conservatives, Waitz believes that the tides are beginning to shift, “The narrative has changed substantially as big parts of the farming community have understood that we can be allies as well.  Especially the medium and small-sized farming sectors have recognized us as real supporters of them.”

A burgeoning hope

Though the new CAP is still on track to be part of the 2021-2028 EU Budget, there is still much to be done before it is implemented.  Over 200 civil society organizations have written letters to Commission President von der Leyen, and thousands have protested against the new CAP online. According to Thomas Waitz, President von der Leyen has stated that though she will not withdraw the CAP, she agrees that there needs to be improvements to better align the CAP with the Green New Deal, and that they will do their utmost to accommodate that, and will ask the European Greens to back them. 

In doing this, Waitz, O’Sullivan and Cuffe agree that the next step will be the Greens utilizing this rare opportunity to get the message through to von der Leyen: “Fix the CAP”.

SOURCES:

https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/key-policies/common-agricultural-policy/future-cap_en#:~:text=On%201%20June%202018%2C%20the,production%20of%20high%2Dquality%20food.

https://europeangreens.eu/news/agricultural-dimension-green-new-deal-0

Joshua Allan

Joshua Allan is from Beamsville, Ontario and graduated from Bishop's University in June 2020, having studied Foreign Languages and Politics. His political activity in his community includes advocating for environmental rights in the Fridays for Future march in Sherbrooke, QC, in October 2019. His interests include Canadian and international politics, environmental politics, and Indigenous rights.

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