A proposal to ring-fence 20% of CAP Pillar One funds for eco schemes remains a major sticking point in negotiations between European agricultural ministers following an opening round of talks.

The European Council of Agricultural Ministers is meeting on Monday and Tuesday (19-20 October) to finalise a common position on the next CAP, known as a general approach.

This would allow the council, chaired by German farm minister Julia Klöckner, to enter final negotiations with the European Parliament and Commission.

The backdrop to the latest CAP is a push for stronger climate and environmental ambition across all areas of EU spending, including farm policy.

Green architecture

Eco schemes are one of the new initiatives under the CAP’s ‘green architecture’ to demonstrate a greater effort by farmers in the area. It will replace Greening and member states will be required to set aside a portion of their direct payment envelope for them.

Eco schemes have to be offered to farmers, but they will not obliged to opt in. However, those opting out will lose a portion of their direct payment.

Originally, it was envisaged that member states could set that portion. However, the Commission is now pushing for a ring-fenced allocation.

Flexible learning phase

The German presidency has proposed a figure of 20% with a flexible two-year initial learning phase.

For Ireland, that would see €237m allocated to eco schemes annually, totalling some €1.2bn over the lifetime of the next CAP, which is due to come into effect on 1 January 2023 until 2027.

Klöckner said: “We are obliged to make it [CAP] more environmentally and climate friendly, that is what society expects. Our farmers are expecting that we can ensure the ecology, the environment and the economic interests can work smoothly together.”

European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski told ministers that 20% was the minimum percentage that could be accepted for eco schemes.

He reminded them that the EU has set a target of 40% of all spending being on climate and the environment, including 30% of all CAP spending.

Lost funds

However, a number of agricultural ministers are concerned that ring-fencing direct payment money for eco schemes risks losing substantial funds in the event of a low take-up by farmers.

Irish Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue is among those concerned.

Addressing the meeting, he said: “I cannot consider ring-fencing if there is a threat of significant losses if there are unspent funds and that is still the case.”

The German presidency has proposed a two-year learning phase during which funds could not be lost if there was slow-take up. Minister McConalogue expressed concerns that after two years, the risk remained, with no flexibility to protect funds.

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