Why German Agriculture Minister Klöckner doesn't listen to recommendations from nature conservation associationsMarch 19, 2021
- Germany alone has received around 6.2 billion euros from the EU in each of the past few years to support its own farmers.
- Nature conservation organizations criticize that a large part flows into subsidies that farmers receive merely for their farmed areas. So the bigger the farm, the more money there is. Environmental requirements do not have to be met. They are therefore calling for the abolition of such direct payments.
- But Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) wants to stick to the existing system and tie the subsidies only slightly to environmental requirements. Recommendations of the associations will not be taken into account.
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For years, conservationists and animal rights activists have been at odds with representatives of farmers’ and food associations over EU agricultural subsidies. The environmentalists demand that the billions in subsidies only be paid out if farmers meet environmental requirements. The farmers’ lobby, on the other hand, is sticking to subsidies without such requirements. To date, there is no consensual solution as to how the money should be distributed.
It is a contentious issue that is currently also being discussed in the so-called “Commission on the Future of Agriculture”. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) set up the body at the end of 2020 as a “forum for reconciling interests”. The 31 members are to develop new approaches to agricultural policy for the next ten years. Opponents such as nature conservationists and animal rights activists as well as farmers’ and agricultural associations sit at the table.
However, nature and animal conservationists are now accusing Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) of not listening to the expert opinions of the commission. Instead, she is stubbornly pursuing her own plans. This gives the impression that she merely does not want to scare away farmers as potential voters for the CDU/CSU shortly before the Bundestag elections.
Tax money flows partly unconditionally to farmers
Behind the dispute lies a larger problem: “Currently, billions of taxpayer dollars are being given unconditionally to farmers who poison groundwater, accelerate species extinction, and drive climate change,” criticizes Martin Kaiser, executive director of Greenpeace Germany, for example, in an interview with Business Insider. “If we take the climate crisis seriously, the system has to be changed,” he says. Otherwise, the billions in taxes that farmers receive from subsidies could no longer be justified.
In fact, Germany receives around 6.2 billion euros a year from the European Union under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to support its own farmers. But of the subsidies for Germany, a large portion (4.9 billion euros) goes to grants that farmers receive for their land alone. So the bigger the farm, the more money there is. It is supposed to secure their income, even if prices fluctuate. In return, however, they have hardly had to comply with environmental or animal welfare regulations. Farmers who do not keep their animals in a species-appropriate manner or who emit a lot of greenhouse gases also receive money.
Klöckner’s plan on agriculture could change the subsidy system
Julia Klöckner (CDU) would now have the chance to change the system. She is currently working on a national strategy for how EU money will be distributed in Germany in concrete terms over the next seven years. Since the Commission for the Future is also dealing with these issues, it would actually make sense to wait for the experts’ recommendations there first. But that is apparently not what is wanted.
According to Uwe Feiler (CDU), Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the commission is not expected to comment on current events. That NGOs publish their own maximum demands is legitimate, he said. But they should not give the impression that they are speaking for the Future Commission on Agriculture as a whole, Feiler added. After all, there is not yet a unified position on the Common Agricultural Policy and its mandate is a longer-term one.
This is criticism that nature and animal conservationists, however, do not want to accept. With the national plan for agriculture, Julia Klöckner (CDU) is now setting the course for the next seven years, says Martin Kaiser. Billions of taxpayers’ money could be used to achieve the goals of the Paris climate protection agreement in agriculture by 2027. But if Klöckner sticks to the system of unconditional payments, as it currently looks like, these targets can no longer be achieved in time. This would also mean that further work in the Commission would no longer make sense.
The Commission was already working on a statement
In addition, the commission had been much further ahead than the ministry claimed. Accordingly, a working group of the Commission had already formulated a draft for a statement of the body on agricultural subsidies at the end of January. It stated that the current area-based direct payments should be “gradually and largely to completely” abolished and the subsidies should instead be tied to environmental protection requirements. This was a historic step, as it was the first time that environmentalists and farmers’ associations had been able to reach an agreement on this issue, at least internally. The only thing that remained open was the date on which the subsidies were to be abolished: The wording only provided for “in the course of the next two subsidy periods”, i.e. until 2027 or until 2034.
However, Klöckner apparently tried to prevent precisely this statement by the Commission, according to Commission circles. According to her own plans, she wants to continue to pay out 60 to 70 percent of the subsidies depending on the area. For it suggests environmental protection conditions, but the nature protection federation Germany (Nabu) had criticized it as insufficient. Klöckner is not talking about abolishing the area subsidies.
Klöckner is said to have wanted to prevent a statement from the Commission
According to sources within the Commission, the minister’s interference in the panel’s work is said to have gone so far that Klöckner made phone calls to Commission members before and even during a meeting in February to discuss the statement on agricultural subsidies in order to prevent a final official statement.
When asked by Business Insider, the German Ministry of Agriculture and Food does not comment on the matter.
The response only says that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is already facing a system change. In the future, every euro of subsidy money is to be linked to environmental and climate requirements, among other things. In addition, the Commission for the Future of Agriculture is an independent commission. The members are, of course, free to agree on the transformation of direct payments.
Criticism comes from former Agriculture Minister Renate Künast (Greens): “The fact that Ms. Klöckner is not starting to systematically transform agricultural subsidies is a betrayal of young people because this sector does too little for climate protection,” she tells Business Insider. But it is also a betrayal of farming families, she adds, because she does not help them or reward them when they convert their farms to be climate-friendly.
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