EU agriculture ministers have agreed to ringfence 20% of direct farm support payments for green measures under CAP reform proposals.
Member states voted through the proposal on a qualified majority after a 45-hour session of the EU Council that concluded at 4:15am on 21 October.
Only Lithuania voted against the proposal after it called for just 10% of pillar one support to be hived off for environmental measures.
Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania also declined to support the package, abstaining from the vote.
But the remaining 23 states approved, allowing three-way negotiations, referred to as trialogues, to start between the European parliament, the council and the European Commission.
The new CAP budget will be around €336.4bn (£305bn), comprising €258.6bn (£235bn) for the first pillar (mainly direct payments to farmers, but also operational programmes and market measures) and €77.9bn (£70.7bn) for rural development.
That represents an overall decrease of nearly €35bn (£31.7bn) from the 2014-2020 CAP budget, when viewed in 2018 prices.
The British Agriculture Bureau (BAB) in Brussels – an organisation representing the NFU in England and Wales, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers Union – said the European parliament was also moving towards agreement on the proposals.
If the reforms are adopted, all EU farms will have to undertake additional environmental measures under “Eco-schemes” to have a chance of maintaining their CAP direct support.
While farmers already have to meet standards of good agricultural and environmental practices under existing CAP rules, the schemes will require them to carry out extra measures.
BAB set out the following five key areas which were agreed by the council.
- Eco-schemes These are 12-month environmental projects that include precision farming, agriforestry and organic production. The schemes come under pillar one (direct support) funding through the 20% of ring-fenced money in the direct payment envelope.
- Exemptions A two-year initial pilot phase would allow any unused funds to be used for traditional, non-environmental farm projects. Member states which have a higher spend on pillar two projects (those outside direct payments) will also be allowed to attribute some of their spending towards the 20% Eco-scheme target under pillar one.
- Governance EU states will be allowed to draw up their own spending plans in line with EU objectives such as the EU Farm to Fork programme and biodiversity strategy targets.
- Biodiversity An earlier proposal to create nature-friendly areas across 10% of Europe’s agricultural land has been downgraded to 5% of arable land. This could be reduced further to 3% and farm under 10ha will not have to comply.
- CAP payment limits A proposed cap on individual payments of more than €100,000 (£90,000) was rejected by council but the European parliament is expected to push to keep this limit.