The New Green Architecture of the CAP

Wednesday 27 February 2019

Greening (or the green payment), a new type of direct payment to farmers, was introduced with the 2013 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In a context where the urge to preserve the environment and climate had become clear, and while agriculture had been identified as a contributor of CO² emissions, Greening was meant to enhance the environmental performance of the CAP. How successful has it been in this end? What will the new European Commission (EC) proposal offer to go further than this first attempt at a greener CAP?

In its report from 2017[1], the Court of Auditors (ECA) noted that the objectives of the greening policy, aiming at implementing agricultural practices that are more beneficial for the environment - such as crop diversification, maintenance of permanent grassland and the establishment of ecological focus areas - were not clear nor ambitious enough, which prevented it from having a significant impact. The Court underlined, for example, that greening practice of crop diversification is less beneficial for soil than crop rotation or that the effect of grassland protection on net emissions from farmland could be enhanced through better targeting of said grassland. In addition, the increased complexity of greening in the CAP, coupled with the fact that Member States do not use the flexibility they are offered under this policy, has only led to changes in agricultural practices on about 5% of EU agricultural land. With this in mind, the future CAP proposal was expected be more ambitious on environmental issues.

On 24 January 2019, Commissioner Phil Hogan presented to the members of the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development his views on the green architecture as set out in the European Commission’s proposal[2]: “Society expects a major push for greater sustainability in agriculture, including in environmental terms. […] This is the wish of the people and we expect the CAP to make that possible.” According to Commissioner Hogan, the EC proposal is a game changer.

So how does the EC intend to do that?

Firstly, the EC puts forward a targeted approach, based on each Member State’s specific needs, in addressing environmental and climate objectives through both pillars of the CAP (direct payments to farmers and support for rural development). This should be done in coherence with other EU policies, and most particularly with the EU environmental and climate legislation.

"Conditionality" will also be reinforced. This means that farmers will need to meet new and strengthened existing standards in order to receive area- and animal-based CAP payments. “Conditionality will, in many ways, be a foundation of what the CAP achieves for the environment and climate”, according to Commissioner Hogan. For Esther Herranz García, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and rapporteur on future strategic plans for the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, an enhanced conditionality is indeed a further step towards a greener CAP, but only as long as farmers remain able to comply.

Moreover, a complementary set of tools will be offered to farmers to help them achieve the CAP environmental and climate objectives. This last aspect of the EC proposal includes a new stream of funding for the environment and climate, called "eco-schemes", from the CAP direct payments budget[3]. These eco-schemes would be mandatory for Member States to implement, but voluntary for farmers and could include, for instance, enhanced management of permanent pasture and landscape features as well as organic farming[4]. An incentive approach that should, according to the EC, combine economic ends with environmental benefits.

Globally, Commissioner Hogan highlighted a greater flexibility for farmers through the national strategic plans; those national plans would allow Member States to choose measures adapted to their specific territories in order to answer the CAP objectives. Answering the fear of many MEPs of the risk of a renationalisation of this common policy[5]- and therefore a distortion of the internal market competition, Commissioner Hogan explained that, rather, a consistent CAP plan would allow Member States to do more while the EC supervision  help maintaining a level playing field.

While the EC seems confident in the future environmental achievements of its proposals for the future CAP, the European Parliament will not be able to adopt a definitive position during this legislature as there will be no vote in the plenary session before the coming European elections of May. This could mean a potential turnaround of the Parliament’s position if newly elected MEPs decide to start over the discussion in the Committee on agriculture and rural development. The discussion on the post-2020 CAP is only just starting.


[2] Regulation on the CAP Strategic Plans:



[5] These strategic plans under the European Commission’s proposal indeed imply an increased subsidiarity.

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