German ministers agree on final CAP plan, split on green rule suspension

German federal and state agriculture ministers have likely cleared the way for the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) at the country level, but remain divided on easing environmental requirements.

Read the original story in German.

Ministers convened a special meeting on Thursday (28 July) to finalise the revision of the national strategic plan for the new EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) so that it could be submitted to the Commission without further ado.

Though ministers prepared their final version of the plan, it remains open whether Germany will use the option offered by the EU Commission to also allow cultivation on fallow land in 2023 in view of the Ukraine war, which normally has to remain uncultivated in the interest of biodiversity.

“You see a very satisfied federal agriculture minister,” Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said after the meeting.

“Thank God we have launched the strategic plan today,” he said.

The newest version of the plan greenlighted by the Länder, Germany’s federal regions, is already the result of the talks with the European Commission so the document’s approval is now a mere formality, said Özdemir.

Saxony-Anhalt Minister Sven Schulze (CDU), the current chair of the conference, noted that the preparatory works were already done to complete the approval process soon and create planning security for farmers.

Final changes made under pressure

National strategic plans are for member states to set out how they intend to implement EU agriculture reform at the national level.

At the start of the year, the first draft plan had to be submitted to the Commission, which subsequently sent detailed observation letters to the member states. Germany received 296 comments on its plan alone which the latest version aims to answer.

If the Commission now approves it, the document can enter into force as planned, in 2023.

“We have been able to answer the Commission’s most important questions,” Özdemir said with conviction.

For example, the protection of wetlands and peatlands, the so-called GAEC 2 standards, have been improved in line with the Commission’s wishes. In addition, according to Özdemir, flowering strips are to remain on the land longer than originally planned.

Fundamental or particularly far-reaching changes, however, were probably no longer possible given the time pressure.

“I will say it quite frankly: Some things could certainly have been done differently in the CAP,” said Özdemir who, since taking office at the end of 2021, did not have much time to make changes to the plan presented by his conservative predecessor Julia Klöckner.

But in order to provide farmers with planning security, the process “should not be protracted” and the Commission recognises Germany’s “political will”, he explained.

Debate over fallow lands

Despite the success in finalising the strategic plan, dealing with the consequences of the Ukraine war remains a contentious issue between the federal and state governments.

While a majority of state ministers were in favour of relaxing environmental requirements and allowing temporary cultivation on fallow land during the meeting, according to Schulze, Özdemir was sceptical and first wants to “examine the option carefully”.

For Germany not to risk cuts in EU subsidies, four per cent of arable land must be left fallow according to an environmental measure in the new CAP.

“We are all very aware that the Commission’s decision involves considerable complications,” the federal minister stressed.

Next week, his ministry will therefore discuss technical issues surrounding the possible derogation at the working level and then exchange views at the political level, he added.

Özdemir also sees the management of fallow land as ineffective in increasing available grain and wants to focus on wasting less agricultural products or using them for animal feed or energy production.

For the federal states, however, the balancing process in the federal ministry is going too slowly.

Suspending crop rotation

“The fact is: Here, too, we need a clear statement in the next few days on what we can say to our farmers accordingly,” said Schulze, adding that given the current food crisis, “every tonne of grain that can be produced counts”.

On Wednesday (27 July), the European Commission officially decided to allow member countries to suspend specific environmental requirements within the CAP in 2023.

In addition to the management of fallow land, the relaxations proposed by Brussels also involve the suspension of so-called crop rotation rules, which determine which types of crops may be grown in succession on a field and in what order.

Özdemir himself had lobbied the Commission for this idea and accordingly showed himself open to implementing the derogation in Germany.

According to the Thünen Institute, a government research institute, the suspension of the rules on crop rotation in Germany alone would bring more additional grain than the cultivation of fallow land in the whole of Europe, the minister emphasised.


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