Intergroup meeting: the CAP reform and animal welfare

19 Dec 2019
The Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals met today to discuss the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), and the challenges and opportunities for animal welfare that such a reform bears.

The CAP represented 36% of the EU budget in 2018 and is likely to keep accounting for a third of the total EU budget. The CAP is therefore  policy a key budgetary opportunity to improve the welfare of farm animals and to promote more sustainable farming systems. 

Following the Commission’s proposition in 2018, the CAP is now comprised  of three regulations: the Strategic Plans Regulation, the Horizontal Regulation, and the Common Organisation of the Markets (CMOs) Regulation. The reform of the CAP started during the previous  legislative term and will now be pursued under the newly-elected Parliament. The work will continue on the basis of the report adopted in April by the former Parliament. 

MEP Maria Noichl opened the floor to explain the current state of the dossiers and the key discussion points of the reform regarding farm animal welfare. The Agriculture Committee (AGRI) and Environment Committee (ENVI) have a shared competence on these legislative proposals but have still different views, entailing further negotiations between shadow rapporteurs. Referring to the Strategic Report, MEP Noichl  highlighted two points: conditionality and eco-schemes. In regard to conditionality, ENVI is in favor of higher levels of support whereas AGRI supports lower requirement levels. The eco-schemes are a new mechanism affording funding for specific programmes, rather than a payment based simply on the surface, therefore representing a change in EU the ways agricultural subsidies could be delivered. The CAP reform also requires Member States to draw national plans with a list of measures they would fund.  Typically, Member States could fund animal welfare measures if they choose to do so. The percentage of money spent respectively in the first pillar and in the eco-schemes will also be a contentious point of debate, as ENVI is asking a higher level of funding for the echo-schemes than AGRI. But before even reaching an agreement on the share of the budget going to the eco-schemes, negotiations will have to address whether the eco-schemes should be mandatory in the national strategic plan. 

Regarding the timetable, MEP Noichl explained that the vote in plenary is expected for the summer 2020. As there is currently no agreement between AGRI and ENVI, the two committees will need to reach a compromise. Following the trilogue, the CAP reform should be officially adopted by the end of 2020, with the Member States elaborating their national plans in 2021. The new CAP will thus likely be implemented by 2022. MEP Noichl ended her presentation by stressing that the CAP should embrace the public’s view that  tax-payers money should fund policy actions the citizens find important.

Alice Di Concetto, a Programme Officer for Farm Animals at Eurogroup for Animals, then presented suggestions to further include animal welfare elements in the CAP. She started by stressing that, according to article 13 of the TFUE, the EU institutions should “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals” as sentient beings, in the  agricultural legislation. As the CAP will affect the lives of the 7.5 billion farm animals slaughtered in the EU each year, the CAP reform is a unique opportunity to promote animal welfare. Yet, the current reform take into account farm animal welfare is in a limited way, which is in contradiction with the strong citizens support for higher welfare in farming. 

For the first pillar, Alice Di Concetto  called for the adoption of a regulatory definition of industrial farm production to ensure that industrial  farms are not eligible for funding under the CAP. Concerning conditionality, she first reminded that 88% of the EU citizens believe it is justified to reduce subsidy for producers who do not respect animal welfare standards, and further  called for the inclusion of all relevant animal welfare directives. She also suggested a new GAEC stating that animals should be kept in a way that allow them to turn around, stand up, and extend their legs at all times. This measure would also be positive for the environment as extreme confinement aggravates the environmental footprint of agricultural  production. 

Di Concetto further presented Eurogroup for Animals’ recommendations under the second pillar, which, she insisted, should only be afforded to farmers who go beyond legal requirements. She stressed that the Member States have been underspending on animal welfare so far. Moreover, the Court of auditors identified examples of situations of non-compliance with legal requirements in farm which are nonetheless benefitting from  second pillar funding. For the Horizontal Regulation, Di Concetto called for larger control samples for inspections, the end early warning in case of violation of the EU legislation, and more deterring penalties. Finally, she suggested the enactment of quotas on production at risk of concentration and consolidation, and the possibility for plant-based products to use designations such as burgers or milk under the Common Organisation of the Markets Regulation.

The presentations were followed by a lively debate between the MEPs. They discussed the different positions of ENVI and AGRI and the likelihood of reaching an agreement, the move toward programme-based payments, the potential burden additional conditionality rules might represent for farmers, and the greening of the CAP. The MEPs also mentioned the issue  of the distribution of funding to favour small farms instead of large industrial ones. Finally, the Members of the Intergroup discussed the representation of farmers, civil society, and unions in the debates.