The opportunity of CAP reform to cultivate fairer and more sustainable agriculture must not be wasted.
Agriculture has long been the bedrock of our economies. It produces most of the food and raw materials in the European Union and it provides a livelihood for many in rural communities. It has long been a focus for the EU too—the Common Agricultural Policy has been in place for almost 60 years, in one form or another.
As we work to make the EU fit for the future, it is right that we turn our focus to how we can transform agriculture.
Under the leadership of Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission, sustainability has been put at the top of the EU agenda. The objectives of the European Green Deal put the EU on a climate-neutral path. This will require change: farmers and farm workers will have to adapt, make the transition to new jobs and acquire new skills.
For the social-democratic family, the key point is that this green transition must leave no one behind. That is why the Green Deal promotes a just transition, which protects our farmers and farm workers, ensuring that the ecological and social dimensions go hand in hand.
The CAP reform under negotiation by the EU institutions rightly seeks to realign the policy with the Green Deal. The CAP provides extensive financial support to EU farmers and this funding will become increasingly conditional on respecting certain environmental standards.
This is positive. But for socialists and democrats, the drive for more sustainable agriculture must go together with the drive for stronger social rights. That is central to our vision of a just transition.
While farmers and agricultural workers ensure European citizens have food on their table, those working in the agri-food sector often do not benefit from high social standards. Agricultural work is notoriously tough, with long working hours and difficult working conditions. Everyone recognises the harshness and difficulty of farming life but not enough is done to correct this social injustice.
Not just income support
For farmers, the income support the CAP provides is not all they need. They also need good living conditions, health insurance, adequate pensions, childcare and eldercare, the possibility to take days off and an opportunity to build a social life.
More than 70 per cent of EU farmers have not received any agricultural training beyond their own practical experience. Yet adequate skills are a precondition for making the transition to more sustainable farming and access to education and training is just as important in agriculture as in other sectors.
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We want to see social protection for farmers strengthened through the CAP, taking into consideration the specific social needs and conditions of farming. We must do this now if we are to ensure agriculture remains a sustainable and attractive sector for generations to come.
We must do more for agricultural workers too. Exploitation is still too frequent. Workers are often employed under short-term contracts which leave them no job security and insufficient (if any) social-security coverage, putting them at risk of in-work poverty and social exclusion.
The pandemic has exposed them to yet more dangers—inadequate working conditions and accommodation which make social distancing impossible, and lack of protective equipment. Infringements of labour rights, exploitation and forced labour have continued during the pandemic, across the EU.
We should use the opportunity of the new CAP to improve conditions for agricultural workers too, by including a form of social conditionality in the CAP. With the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and the publication of an Action Plan for its implementation under the leadership of Nicolas Schmit, commissioner for jobs and social rights, the EU is striving for more social progress. It is time to live up to these ambitions.
Making the CAP greener is a positive move to accelerate our path towards climate neutrality—it will protect our environment and the health of our citizens. But for this reform to be truly successful, truly just, it must embrace the social pillar and ensure agriculture contributes to social progress.
Disbursement of CAP funding should be based on respect for both environmental and social standards. If social and labour laws are not sufficiently taken into account, farming households will struggle to reconcile a seven-day working week on the farm and working conditions in agriculture will continue to deteriorate, with low wages, insufficient legal protection and unhealthy working conditions.
The coronavirus crisis has shown how crucial farmers and agricultural workers are to the basic functioning of our societies. Without them, there would be no agricultural system. When stocks were running low in our supermarkets, they were producing the food to resupply them. They deserve a better deal.
As European socialists and democrats, we believe every worker in the EU is entitled to decent and fair working conditions. Farmers and farm workers are no exception.
Through the European Green Deal and the social pillar, the EU has set clear commitments and ambitions. It has an opportunity to sow the seeds through a reformed CAP. We must not waste this opportunity to cultivate a socially fair and more sustainable future for all citizens.