Mixed Response to CAP Health Check in Germany
While the outcome of the Health Check was regarded by many across Europe to play strongly to German interests, within the country opinions on the compromise vary widely. In particular, there are conflicting views between different Länder, political parties and stakeholder groups on two key elements of the Health Check: progressive modulation and the milk fund. In this article, these differences of opinion, and some of the underlying reasons, are explored further.
The relevant interest groups, political parties, the farmer’s union DBV and other agrarian associations, as well as environmental associations comment on the Health Check compromise in very different ways. The nature of their comments depends highly on their regional background. When it comes to agricultural policy in Germany, both political background and party affiliation are less relevant for politicians, and their regional background rather more so (1).
Views at the Federal Level
The CDU/CSU and SPD – the coalition parties of current federal government – disagree on most of the relevant aspects of the Health Check outcomes for Germany. While the CDU judges the creation of a milk fund and the review of market conditions positively, the SPD highlights that the opportunity for a substantial reform has been missed. A “soft landing” for the milk sector cannot be ensured with the agreed changes to milk quotas, the SPD emphasises. The CDU also consider the increase of milk quotas in a negative light; due to the upcoming increase of milk production the prices surely will fall further, they predict.
The Green Party consider the Health Check as a step into the right direction. It is seen as a positive compromise. The parliamentary group of the Greens emphasise that climate protection and rural development are strengthened by the Health Check.
Differences of Opinion at the Länder level
If we look at the regional (“Länder”) level, political comments and appraisals depend much more on the regional background of the politicians rather than on their party affiliation. In a nutshell: While politicians from the eastern Länder adamantly take issue with the Health Check outcomes, commentators from the western Länder – particularly from the South – give a more favourable opinion of the outcomes.
In particular, the conservative agrarian ministers of Baden-Württemberg and Bayern support the overall result, and consider the outcome to be a good compromise. As relatively small holdings and family farms are predominant in this region, progressive modulation does not affect agriculture in the South. The adoption of progressive modulation is seen as an important signal for family farms and the creation of the milk fund is highly appreciated.
Both social democrats and conservative politicians categorically disagree with the outcome of two of the most important elements of the Health Check, progressive modulation and the milk fund.
Independent of their political origin, the ministers in the eastern part of Germany, where large-scale holdings (a relic of the socialist production cooperatives) prevail, sharply criticise the compromise. Both social democrats and conservative politicians categorically disagree with the outcome of two of the most important elements of the Health Check, progressive modulation and the milk fund.
The minister of agriculture of Brandenburg, Dietmar Woidke (SPD), points out that that progressive modulation threatens about 5,000 jobs in this structurally and economically weak region. Till Backhaus (SPD), the minister of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the north-east of Germany refers to progressive modulation as a paradigm shift. Progressive modulation is seen by his colleagues from the eastern Länder to significantly discriminate the most competitive agricultural structures. All his colleagues agree, both from conservative parties – like in Thüringen, Sachsen and Sachsen-Anhalt – and from the SPD, as in Brandenburg.
The government in Niedersachsen in the north-west is completely unsatisfied with the results of the Health Check. Minister Ehlen (CDU) criticises both the milk fund as well as modulation. Only his fellow party member and colleague von Boetticher from Schleswig-Holstein supports the irreversible expiry of the EU milk quota system – presumably because of the good natural conditions for regional milk production and the growth prospects for dairy farming in his region.
The same is true for the future allocation of milk fund money. While the minister of agriculture in Rheinland-Pfalz, Hendrik Hering, in the south-west of Germany claims most of the available funds for farms in mountainous regions, his colleague in Sachsen-Anhalt argues the opposite: the milk fund should not concentrate solely in these regions.
Despite these differences of opinion, all Länder ministers agree that all additional modulation funds should be spent mainly for agriculture.
The Comments of Farming and Environmental Stakeholders
The NABU (the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union), one of the biggest German nature conservation associations) proclaim the Health Check results as absolutely inadequate and insufficient. With regard to a sustainable and progressive agricultural policy the outcomes are seen as one step forward and two steps back. Nonetheless, the increase to the rate of modulation is seen as a step in the right direction. However, NABU predict that the suspension of obligatory set-aside as well as the increase of milk quotas will lead to further intensification of agriculture and land use.
The BUND, another green group, consider the Health Check outcomes as a weak result for the protection of the environment and the climate. As a long-term impact of the increase of milk quotas BUND predicts “mountains of butter” and “lakes of milk” – the allegory of the failed agricultural policy of the 1980s.
There are discordant views among the statements of agrarian stakeholders, particularly the DBV (the biggest farmer’s association), AbL (Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft), DBB (Deutscher Bauernbund) and BDM (Bund deutscher Milchviehhalter). AbL and DBB are special interest groups for family farms, with a focus on social and environmental issues, and argue against the further industrialisation of agriculture and farming. The BDM represents the interests of 34,000 German dairy farmers.
The BDM predicts a further negative trend for the milk market. The increase of milk quotas is seen as the wrong decision, as it is considered the changes will result in further economic imbalances.
The export oriented milk industry is the winner of the Health Check the AbL argues – insofar it agrees with the critical position of BDM. The results reveal the advocacy of agri-industrial interests in German agricultural policy. AbL’s counterproposal – a flexible regulation of the amount of milk – would have met the needs of the market much better, the AbL concludes.
The biggest Germans farmer’s association DBV agrees with the AbL only on this issue: the increase of milk quotas is counterproductive. The special solution of the Italian dairy farmers is seen as “completely unacceptable” for the DBV. Regarding progressive modulation the DBV takes it as an “unfair and unjustified punishment of bigger enterprises” and a “disastrous signal” for the most competitive farms.
In this point the DBB dissents: They argue that the reduction of direct payments is socially acceptable. According to their calculations, the progressive modulation actually implies an annual € 10 cut per ha, which should not be labelled as “serious discrimination” by other parties.
(1) AGRAR-EUROPE 48/08, 24 November 2008
19 Dec 2008
Melanie Kröger, IflS
Dr Melanie Kröger is from the Institute for Rural Development Research (IfLS) at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt/Main.
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