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Farmers with their tractors during a protest on the day of an EU agriculture ministers' meeting in Brussels Alamy
Common Agricultural Policy

EU member states agree to CAP review as tractors throng Brussels

Speaking in Brussels today, Agricultural Minister Charlie McConalogue welcomed “a more flexible and simpler CAP”.

EU MEMBER STATES have agreed to relax some eco-friendly requirements under the bloc’s common agricultural policy (CAP) in a new bid to pacify months-long protests by farmers – who faced off with riot police in Brussels for the third time in two months.

Police said they used tear gas and water cannon against farmers who targeted them with eggs and Molotov cocktails, with two officers injured in the standoff and one arrest.

The CAP review was approved by a special committee as agriculture ministers met under tight security in the city’s European quarter, which farmers thronged with 250 tractors, setting fire to tyres and bales of hay.

“We have listened to our farmers and we have taken swift action to address their concerns at a time when they are confronted with numerous challenges,” said David Clarinval, deputy prime minister of Belgium, which holds the rotating EU presidency.

He said the revision aims to slash red tape for farmers and give them more flexibility complying with green regulations while also “maintaining a high level of environmental ambition”.

The committee backed a proposal from the European Commission to change a set of environmental and climate standards that determine whether farmers can receive CAP subsidies.

Irish farmers held their own rallies and blockades here in solidarity with their colleagues abroad over the last few months.

Speaking in Brussels today, Agricultural Minister Charlie McConalogue welcomed “a more flexible and simpler CAP”.

So what’s going to change?

A key change involves granting leeway to farmers who fail to meet CAP requirements because of extreme weather.

The revision does away entirely with the obligation to leave a share of arable land fallow — a measure aimed at protecting soils and promoting biodiversity but a major gripe for farmers. But they would still be incentivised to do so.

Member states would have more flexibility to decide which soils to protect and in which season, and allows them to diversify crops as well as rotate them.

And it exempts small farms under 10 hectares from inspections and penalties related to CAP compliance.

Minister McConalogue commended the ways in which the revised policy is lighter on small farms when it comes to inspections and penalties. 

Her added: “Farmers need stability and space to plan their futures and I will continue to work with Member States to ensure that we have a strong and effective CAP that continues to support sustainable food production in the European Union.”

Nature Restoration Law

The protests also triggered a withdrawal of support by some member states of the Nature Restoration Law, which is aimed at a massive reversal of habitat loss in Europe.

Speaking at the EU Council meeting of environment ministers in Brussels yesterday, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said it would be a “disgrace” for Europe to go to the polls in June having abandoned legislation already fully negotiated by member states and the European Parliament to protect nature.

Ryan said he stood with farmers protesting across Europe “because the truth is our farmers don’t get paid properly”.

“Protecting the nature restoration law is the one of the best ways of getting income to our farmers,” Ryan said.

He said Europe needed green farming that would pay farmers for their “skill in protecting nature”.

Late last week, the Irish Farmers Association said there was a “vacuum of information” in relation to the Nature Restoration Law which persisted and meant it needed to be re-examined after the June European elections. 

In a statement, the IFA said it still had concerns over the impact the law, including on farmland and production. It said it was also concerned by a lack of dedicated funding to support implementation.

With reporting by Valerie Flynn and © AFP 2024