The Common Agricultural Policy: Keeping Ambitions High in Europe

26 November 2020

On November 24, Slow Food hosted an online event, The Common Agricultural Policy: Keeping Ambitions High in Europe. Representatives from the European Commission, from the German and Italian Ministries of Agriculture, as well as farmers and experts from the Slow Food network in Italy and Germany, took part.

The final vote on the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) took place at the European Parliament last October. With it, hopes were dashed for a food policy that can confront our gravest challenges and boost new synergies between farmers, people, and nature. As Member States are designing their National Strategic Plans to adapt to the new CAP, yesterday’s discussion was an important opportunity. The future of agriculture in Europe depends on how these plans being able to meet the environmental and social ambitions of the EU Green Deal?

We can’t afford low ambitions

“There is growing evidence that agroecological food systems are the solution. They promote carbon sequestration, they cultivate crop biodiversity, and they support the biodiversity of our ecosystems. Slow Food was pleased to see agroecology mentioned in both Farm to Fork Strategy and Biodiversity Strategy. It was high time!” stated Marta Messa, director of Slow Food Europe. “It is essential that the National Strategic Plans for the CAP meet the environmental and social ambitions of the EU Green Deal. Lower ambitions would further compromise the wellbeing of our ecosystems and society. They would threaten the very existence of small-scale agroecological farmers, something we can no longer afford.”

Photo: Pixabay

Amadé Billesberger, organic farmer in Germany, underlined the paradox of current food policies: “Small-scale farmers are the custodians of biodiversity and quality. The current CAP pushes small farms to close and allows big ones to grow even bigger. Why do farmers receive funding regardless of how they grow their food?  I would like the CAP to connect European subsidies to the creation of new healthy soils”.

A larger food policy is needed

Agriculture is a complex topic, closely intertwined with other important issues, such as climate change, health, and the future of our children. As Gijs Schilthuis, Head of Unit at the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development at the European Commission asserted: “Agricultural policies need to adapt to the current challenges,” as the conventional industrial food production model is one of the main causes of biodiversity loss, water, air pollution, and climate change. “We have moved from saying “We need a Common Agricultural Policy” to “we need a Common Agricultural Policy embedded within a larger food policy”.

Representatives from the Italian and German Ministries of Agriculture acknowledged the need to take action at national level to shift towards a more sustainable and greener food and agriculture policies. “In terms of subsidy allocation, the CAP objectives are very bold and ambitious. But that’s the right way to proceed, because it amounts to 30% of the European budget,” commented Fabio Pierangeli from Italy. “We need to strengthen the socio-economic fabric of our rural areas. They are facing significant challenges, such as depopulation”, added Gisela Günter referring to the German context.

A jigsaw of different-sized pieces

The ongoing discussions at the national level about how to design the new CAP in their national contexts would benefit greatly from bringing all relevant actors to the table, including small-scale farmers. As Francesco Sottile rightly pointed out: “Europe’s jigsaw is one with small and big pieces. They’re all equally important, including small-scale farmers with their knowledge, their expertise, and their natural love for agriculture”.

Photo: Pixabay

At Slow Food, we believe that agroecology will be key to making the deeply needed transition to sustainable food systems in Europe. We encourage Member States to embrace this innovative approach when drafting their National Strategic Plans and shaping the future agriculture in their countries and in Europe.

by Paula Thomas,