Radical Change in Agricultural Support: More social and ecological accuracy

by Hannes Swoboda

The last few weeks have seen major strikes by farmers, particularly in Germany. Regardless of the specific cause, they have highlighted a general unease with agricultural subsidies. Changes are necessary. But the dispute is also about the direction in which the changes should be made. In addition to our activities as part of the Club of Rome’s “Earth4All” project, I recently had the opportunity to talk to the most politically knowledgeable expert on European agricultural policy, former EU Commissioner Franz Fischler.

Franz Fischler already advocated a radical change in agricultural policy when he was still working in the EU. Area-dependent subsidies should be graduated on a degressive basis and a cap on subsidies should be introduced. But he did not find a majority. Not least Germany voted against it. He is now arguing for the complete abolition of the area premium. The second pillar of funding should be expanded as the only funding channel and, in this way, strong investment should be made in the ecological quality of agriculture. This applies not least to soil quality. This should lead to the soil absorbing and storing more carbon on the one hand and increasing yields on the other. It would be particularly important to designate more extensive ecoregions in which the soil absorbs and stores carbon to a particularly high degree.

Thinking in terms of quality rather than quantity must also apply to livestock farming. In many regions of Europe, now also in Austria, there is too much livestock in relation to the area. This reduces biodiversity. More livestock leads to more mowing. This destroys biodiversity just as much as the increase in manure and slurry. There should be upper limits for livestock farming in relation to the area. The financial loss should be compensated through quality-oriented support and/or higher prices for quality products.

Overall, more attention should be paid to implementing the targets set by the EU and the projects listed in the national strategic plans. The weak and incomplete monitoring and evaluation of these targets does not meet the requirements of a climate-conscious agricultural and food policy. Now, we cannot expect all farmers and consumers to agree to these restructuring measures. But that does not change the fact that we need an agricultural policy and, in particular, agricultural support that is socially fairer and more efficient and effective in terms of climate policy.