Exceptional times call for exceptional measures — but when will the ‘exceptional’ treatment of European farmers ever end?

The severe drought of this summer has led the European Commission to lift two environmental requirements that farmers must respect in order to receive their direct payment.

On top of that many Member States are looking to provide additional financial help for their farmers. In Ireland the government is going to give farmers €4.25 million for a new ‘fodder import support measure‘. In Sweden, farmers hit by drought in this summer’s heatwave will receive 1.2 billion kronor in financial aid. In Germany, farmers will get up to €340 million to compensate for losses.

Exceptional aid to alleviate the burden of different crises on EU farmers, such as the Russian ban or the oversupply of milk or droughts, are not exceptional anymore. In 2014, the EU spent about €220 million in market measures to stabilise agricultural markets, especially the dairy and pig markets. In 2015, under pressure from the farming community, the European Commission created an exceptional aid for livestock farmers of €500 million, including €420 million in direct targeted aid. In 2016, the European Commission provided an additional package of exceptional measures worth €500 million. Billions of Euro from taxpayers are being given to fuel a system that evidently is failing to address the new challenges faced by the agricultural sector.

Climate change is a reality and every study points in the same direction; extreme weather events such as floods or heatwaves will occur more frequently even if climate targets are reached. The recurrent livestock crises of the last few years show that market imbalances can only be addressed by a profound restructuring of the livestock sector.

Luckily both issues have the same solution. We urgently need to help our farmers to transition towards a more environmentally friendly production model and a more resilient system. Farmers are currently part of the problem since they have a net contribution of GHG emissions, contribute to water pollution and loss of biodiversity. However this does not need to be the case. If farmers are provided with the right incentives, history has shown us that they will rise to the challenge. Yet the CAP legislative proposal offers limited change in policy programmes and instruments and leaves the framework around redistribution and farm subsidies largely intact.

Only payments linked to the provision of public goods and the proper implementation of EU environmental law will ensure the future of the next generation of farmers and the protection of our natural capital. The new farm policy should commit at least 50% of its budget to nature, environment and climate objectives, only then we might have some hope.