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Commission unveils new package exempting small farms from environmental controls

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The Commission presented on Friday (15 March) its simplification package to reduce the administrative burden of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), loosening some environmental requirements, and allowing more flexibility for member states in implementing the policy. 

To meet farmers’ and member state demands to reduce red tape, the EU executive proposed exempting farms of less than 10 hectares from checks on compliance with environmental requirements to receive CAP subsidies.

The measure concerns 65% of beneficiaries of CAP support accounting only for around 10% of the total agricultural area, the Commission highlighted, underlining that this will reduce red tape for many farmers while not affecting the environmental and climate ambition of the CAP. 

The EU executive proposed adjustments to the bloc’s farming subsidies scheme and its conditionality requirements, citing the crisis in EU agriculture caused by climate change and the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine on prices and trade flows.

“The Commission considers that the simplification proposals are sufficiently carefully calibrated, targeted, and time limited to maintain a high level of Environment and Climate ambition in the CAP,” EU Commission spokesman Olof Gill told journalists on Friday.

However, the EU executive has been criticised by NGOs for not carrying out an impact assessment of the proposed changes, which the proposal justifies on the grounds of ‘political urgency’.

During the consultation process, the Commission received proposals from the four main EU-level farming organisations, EU countries, and the European Parliament, rejecting the most far-reaching of them as going beyond the objective of simplification. 

An example is the member states’ call to postpone the implementation of ‘social conditionality’, the mechanism linking CAP subsidies to farmers’ respect for the social and labour rights of farm workers. 

The proposal also scraps the obligation for EU countries to assess whether their national strategic plans need to be amended, in case of changes to EU environmental legislation entering into force after 31 December 2025.

The European Commission proposed changes to six of the nine Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs) standards, on which CAP payments depend.

The first step was taken on Tuesday, when the EU executive published a delegated regulation to give member states more flexibility on GAEC 1, on permanent grassland.

If today’s package is approved without amendments by the European Parliament and the Council, member states will be allowed to provide specific exemptions on some GAECs.

The most conspicuous change concerns fallow land. GAEC 8 mandates that 4% of arable pastures be devoted to non-productive features. But this will stop being a requirement for accessing CAP support, so becoming a voluntary scheme based on incentives.

“These exemptions may be set for the whole CAP period in the CAP Strategic Plans,” a European Commission press release stated.

The following table offers an overview of the Commission’s proposal for more flexibility and exemptions in applications of GAECs.  

Environmental NGOs sounded the alarm about the potential impact of the EU executive’s move. 

“The Commission is only driven by short-term political gains ahead of the EU elections,” said EU Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife, Marilda Dhaskali,  adding that the changes expose food security “to an unprecedented level of risk,” 

[Edited by Angelo Di Mambro and Rajnish Singh]

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