MEPs have today (Wednesday, April 24), voted to approve a review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as recently proposed by the European Commission to cut red tape for farmers.

The commission last month proposed a targeted CAP review in relation to several Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) standards to ease the administrative burden for EU farmers.

The parliament approved the review of the CAP Strategic Plans Regulation and the CAP Horizontal Regulation with 425 votes in favour, 130 against, and 33 abstentions. The regulation now has to be approved by council.

Following the approval by the council, the law will be published in the EU Official Journal and enter immediately into force. Farmers will already be allowed to apply revised environmental “conditionalities” for their claims for EU financial support in 2024.

Proposed CAP review

The review, as proposed by the commission and adopted by MEPs today, specifically addresses the following:

  • GAEC 8 on non-productive features: EU farmers will have to maintain existing landscape features on their land but will no longer be obliged to dedicate a minimum part of their arable land to non-productive areas, such as fallow land;
  • GAEC 7 on crop rotation: EU farmers will be able to fulfil this requirement by choosing to either rotate or diversify their crops, depending on the conditions they are facing and if their country decides to include the option of crop diversification in their CAP Strategic Plan;
  • GAEC 6 on soil cover during sensitive periods: Member states will have much more flexibility in setting what they define as sensitive periods, and the practices allowed to fulfil this requirement, in light of their national and regional conditions, and in the context of increasing weather variability.

Targeted exemptions to allow ploughing to restore permanent grassland in Natura 2000 sites in case it is damaged due to predators or invasive species could also be possible (GAEC 9).

In extreme cases of adverse weather conditions preventing farmers to properly work and comply with the GAEC requirements, member states may also introduce temporary derogations. 

The commission also set out a proposal to exempt small farms of under 10ha from controls and penalties related to compliance with conditionality requirements to reduce their administrative burden.

Member states may also exclude certain crops, soil types or farming systems from complying with requirements on tillage, soil cover, and crop rotation/diversification – which relates to GAECs 5, 6, and 7.

To ensure that EU countries can adapt more frequently their CAP strategic plans to changing conditions, the commission proposes to double the number of amendments allowed each year from once to twice a year.

According to the adopted text, member states will also have more leeway when applying the CAP requirement to keep the ratio of permanent grassland to agricultural area above 5% compared to 2018 (GAEC 1), according to the parliament.

‘Victory for farmers’

The European Peoples’ Party (EPP), of which Fine Gael is a member, has welcomed the outcome of today’s vote on the proposed CAP review and described it as a “victory for European farmers and our food security”.

“As farmers will no longer be required to dedicate a minimum part of their arable land to non-productive areas, the result will ease the economic burden of the farms and also improve our European production.

“For small farms, it is fair to have an exemption from the controls and penalties under the conditionality regime,” German MEP and the chair of the parliament’s agriculture committee, Norbert Lins said.

The EPP spokesperson on agriculture, MEP Herbert Dorfmann said that today’s vote will give member states more flexibility to decide which soils to protect and in which season, and to decide to replace crop rotation with crop diversification.  

European Parliament EU elections
Image source: European Parliament

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil MEP for Ireland South, Billy Kelleher has urged the Irish government to immediately decide to make use of the flexibilities agreed at European level today to support Irish farmers.

The MEP said “it is now accepted at EU level that farmers face tough regulatory burdens and intense and often off-putting conditionalities while doing their job of growing the food Europe relies on”.

“In the next term of the European Parliament, a full review of the CAP is planned. This acceptance of the need to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers needs to be carried through,” he said.