EU farming subsidies deal criticised as insufficiently green

The future of agricultural subsidies in the European Union is the subject of crunch debates this week, with an alliance of political groups backing a compromise plan that green parties warn has inadequate environmental protections.

As politicians went head to head over the issue in the start of a week-long showdown in the European Parliament, agriculture ministers from the 27 member states met in Luxembourg to thrash out a compromise on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that represents a substantial chunk of the EU’s budget.

Proposed changes to the subsidies, which farmers across the continent rely on to stay afloat, seek to balance the priorities of ensuring European food security, providing support to rural areas, and preventing a collapse in biodiversity and additional carbon emissions that environmental campaigners warn will contribute to catastrophic climate change.

The European Commission has proposed tweaks to the subsidy to incentivise farmers to protect biodiversity and maintain habitats that lock in carbon such as peat bogs, as part of a strategy to reach carbon neutrality on the continent by 2050.

Financial support

Yet agricultural lobbies are highly sensitive to the changes and warn that farmers must have adequate financial supports to adopt new green practices, and took to the streets of Brussels earlier this year in a protest to demand greater supports.

A complex compromise proposal has been backed by an alliance of the three largest political groups in the European Parliament: the European People’s Party of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil’s Renew Europe, and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

But green parties and environmental groups warn that the settlement will undermine the EU’s climate objectives by effectively subsiding further environmental damage and guaranteeing the continued release of pollutants.

Independent MEP Luke “Ming” Flanagan called the compromise a “historic capitulation to big business” and a “betrayal of the environment”, while Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan called the proposed CAP “regressive”.

Farming methods

“Support needs to be fair for farmers and targeted at a transition into improving farming methods that help to stop, not speed up, runaway progression towards mass extinction,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

The green group in the European Parliament has called for the CAP to include strong and binding targets to protect biodiversity, reduce the use of pesticides on fields, and roll back the use of antibiotics in livestock farming.

Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly, MEP for Ireland South, warned that the compromise had been hard-won and had taken two years to negotiate, and that agreement needed to be reached for the subsidies to start flowing from next year.

“It’s as simple as this, we have to get a CAP, and the nature of politics is a compromise,” Mr Kelly told The Irish Times.

“Farmers aren’t happy, greens aren’t happy,” he added. “It’s the greenest CAP ever, and while some people aren’t happy that it isn’t greener, there are those who say it’s too green.”

The issue is set for a final vote at the end of this week.