EU agriculture ministers have accepted the provisional deal struck last Friday (June 25) on the key elements of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, bringing the proposal a step closer to becoming part of EU law.

The agreement paves the way for a “more performance-based CAP”, according to a statement from the council of agriculture ministers.

“Today we have agreed the most ambitious CAP to date. This is a good deal for farmers and for Europe, which will strengthen the European agri-food system,” said Maria do Ceu Antunes, Portuguese Minister for Agriculture (Portugal currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU).

“The agreement provides for a modernised CAP that supports the transition to greener and more climate-friendly farming; increases respect for social and labour rights; and ensures that farmers remain competitive without leaving anyone behind,” the minister added.

Work will now take place on the remaining technical details of the proposed reform, following which it is expected to be formally approved by both the European Parliament and the council.

The new CAP will cover the period 2023-2027. A transitional arrangement agreed in 2020 will continue to apply until then.

The new CAP sets out a number of measures aimed at encouraging farmers to adopt ‘greener’ farming practices.

These include: enhanced conditionality standards (including the preservation of carbon-rich soils such as peatlands); eco-schemes to support and incentivise farmers to “observe practices that benefit the climate and the environment”; and an increased share of rural development funding to be spent on “green interventions”.

The CAP reform package also includes measures aimed at redistributing funds in favour of small and medium-sized farms.

Under the agreement, member states will be required to redirect 10% of direct payments to benefit such farms (in principle through redistributive payments, unless they can prove that they can achieve the same effect via other comparable instruments such as convergence).

The reform also includes a shift from a focus on compliance to a performance-based CAP that will give member states the freedom to implement tailor-made interventions on the basis of strategic planning in line with their needs, the council noted.

The post-2020 CAP will also place greater emphasis on the ‘social dimension’ of farming.

Under the new agreement, farmers and other beneficiaries receiving direct payments will be subject to an administrative penalty if they do not provide adequate employment conditions as set out in the relevant EU legislation.

It is the first time that EU agriculture legislation has included this ‘social dimension’.