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The EU's Common Agriculture Policy and Sustainable Farming: A statement by scientists

Pe'er, Guy; Lakner, Sebastian; Seppelt, Ralf; Bezák, Peter; Bonn, Aletta; Concepción, Elena D.; Creutzig, Felix; Daub, Claus-Heinrich; Díaz, Mario; Dieker, Petra; Eisenhauer, Nico; Hagedorn, Gregor; Hansjürgens, Bernd; Harrer-Puchner, Gabriele; Herzon, Irina; Hickler, Thomas; Jetzkowitz, Jens; Kazakova, Yanka; Kindlmann, Pavel; Kirchner, Mathias; Klein, Alexandra-Maria; Linow, Sven; Lomba, Angela; López-Bao, José Vicente; Metta, Matteo; Morales, Manuel B.; Moreira, Francisco; Mupepele, Anne-Christine; Navarro, Alberto; Oppermann, Rainer; Rac, Ilona; Röder, Norbert; Martina Schäfer; Sirami, Clelia; Streck, Charlotte; Šumrada, Tanja; Tielbörger, Katja; Underberg, Emil; Wagener-Lohse, Georg; Baumann, Franz

The European Union’s (EU) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) still fails to address the environmental and socioeconomic challenges of EU’s agriculture. Agricultural ecosystems are further degrading, biodiversity is declining and agricultural Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions remain high. At the same time, farms are facing unresolved socio-economic challenges and rural areas struggle to remain viable. Knowledge, data, instruments and resources to address sustainability challenges are readily available. Missing is the CAP’s appropriate design as well as prioritization, and the indispensable political will to improve these.

While the Commission’s 2018 proposal fell short of addressing the key weaknesses of the CAP, the amendment proposals of October 2020 by the Council and the Parliament significantly weaken the CAP’s environmental instruments, while maintaining or even enhancing the inequitable and counterproductive distribution of payments. A weakened CAP puts both the environment and the future of farmers and farming at risk.

Scientific evidence shows that it is possible and efficient to align sustainable farming, multifunctional agroforestry and long-term prosperity with the climate and biodiversity goals of the EU. Farmers’ interests and environmental protection can be mutually reinforced and achieved through a CAP that is aligns with the EU’s Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy, while also conforming to the Paris Agreement.

The proposed CAP post-2020 as it stands represents a business-as-usual model of agriculture against the viable alternative of a responsible and sustainable farm model that ensures the viability of rural communities. The narrative in support of this foundering approach, by stressing the importance of food production and the need to feed the world, is counteracted by a reality of more farmland taken for the production of fuel and feed for animals than for human consumption. The political positions also fail to represent the interests and needs of most farmers, who want to protect their living environment so in order to secure the long-term sustainability of their own farming - but rightly ask for public policy support. The CAP should provide better means to do so, and aim at a fair transition toward a sustainable future for farming.

The trilogue negotiations are a last opportunity to rethink the CAP post-2020 design and propose legal texts that allow, rather than impede, environmental and social ambition in line with the EU’s statement that the next CAP will be fairer and greener.

Using the time gained by the transition period of two years, we strongly recommend to Member States, the Council and the Parliament to rethink the current proposal. We specifically urge to:

1. Maintain conditionality along the lines set by the Commission, and improve it by

a) expanding permanent pasture protection beyond protected areas (Natura 2000) and

b) maintaining or restoring at least 10% non-productive, semi-natural landscape features on all utilized agricultural area rather than only on arable land;

2. Ring-fence budgets for Agri-Environment-Climate Measures and allow Member States to expand their budgets beyond current levels;

3. Secure at least 30% of Pillar 1’s budget for Eco-schemes and use current knowledge to ensure Eco-schemes are well designed (i.e., include only effective measures for biodiversity), monitored and re-evaluated to achieve measurable environmental impacts;

4. Place Areas of Nature Constraints in Pillar 1, or tie them strictly to environmental objectives and the protection of High Nature Value farmland regions, rather than unduly list them as an environmental instrument without substantive criteria;

5. Cancel a) ring-fencing for direct payments (especially coupled payments), b) the barrier on Member States’ maximum investment in the environment, and c) the limitation for budget transfers to Pillar 2. These restrictions impede ambitious Member States from investing in rural areas and in public goods;Place a clear target for reducing, toward phasing out, of coupled payments (e.g. toward 5%) as subsidies that are harmful for both markets and the environment;

6. Place a clear target for reducing, toward phasing out, of coupled payments (e.g. toward 5%) as subsidies that are harmful for both markets and the environment;

7. If Direct Payments remain a political priority, and more equity among the recipients is the proposed means to address farmer’s concerns, then the Council and Parliament should make the Capping and Redistribution mechanism mandatory for all Member States, and set strict capping rules;

8. Ensure the success of the new Delivery Model by means of a) linking Strategic Plans to the EU’s Green Deal, b) retaining the yearly reporting of Result indicators, and c) improving the integration of scientists and other experts in the consultation processes offered by Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS).

Science across all disciplines is available to address the agricultural sustainability challenge and improve the CAP. Over 3600 signatories have supported the call to improve the CAP. They underlined the feasibility of constructive changes and documented the readiness to assist in positively transforming and future-proofing the CAP and the EU’s agriculture (Pe’er et al. 2020).

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