Behind the CAP reform – The rooted lobbying of COPA-COGECA

02 February 2021 /

5 min

During the week of the 19th of October, the vote on the new reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) took place in the European Parliament (EP). The reform was eventually adopted by a majority of Members of European Parliament (MEP’s), leading to the next round of negotiation known as the “Trilogue”. But voices raised against COPA-COGECA and its harmful lobbying to obtain an early vote on a CAP reform which lacks ambitions in terms of green, environmental and sustainable policies.

A Campaign: “Vote this CAP down”

The CAP, one of the EU’s oldest policies, designed around three pillars (economic, social and environmental), is currently the subject of a new reform. EU Institutions play a central role in negotiations, but lobbies from the agro-industrial business also exert influence to defend their interests. 

A couple of weeks before the vote, ecological activists, as well as a great number of European deputies, mostly from the green party and the left political spectrum, launched a campaign under the motto “Vote this CAP down”. With this slogan, they attempted to raise concerns about the lack of ambition of the new reform, elaborated under the Junker Commission and in contradiction with the “Green New Deal” and the  Commission’s “Farm to Fork strategy” presented last May by Ursula Von der Leyen. 

According to the Corporate European Observatory (CEO), the Von der Leyen Commission’s proposal for a serious greening of the 2021-2027 CAP had the effect of mobilizing a range of actors willing to vote early on the older Junker’s CAP proposal. Their main intentions: delay and empty from their substances the EU’s new ecological ambitions. Among protagonists for an early vote, detractors point to Europe’s main agricultural union COPA-COGECA. Newspapers such as Le Monde and ecological activists, led by Greta Thunberg, denounced the damaging action of the Agro-industrial lobby, working hand in hand with pesticide manufacturers to prevent any significant change to the CAP. 

“Going beyond the institutional EU-lobby relationship”

 In a record time, and during the COVID19 pandemic, COPA COGECA managed to gather a large number of MEPs from political groups of the EPP, S&D and Renew to form a coalition supporting the CAP reform launched under Junker. To win the vote, P. Lamberts, leader of the political group The Green/European Free Alliance, claims that the COPA COGECA lobby was able to count on its “large number of friends within the EP, especially among conservative deputies”. This statement echoes a revelation made by The Guardian in 2018, when the EP took part in negotiations on the EU’s 2020-27 CAP budget. At that time, the English newspaper raised concerns about the business or personal links, in other words conflict of interests, MEP’s from the agriculture committee had with the farming sector and agro-businesses. 

Recently, investigations conducted by the Corporate European Observatory on COPA COGECA exposed a network of formal and informal ties between the lobby and the European commission, going beyond the adequate institutional relationship. Geographically, the respective office of COPA COGECA and DG Agriculture are located right across the street from each other. Being facing neighbors enable both parties to organize events jointly, brainstorm and hold meetings regularly, and develop strong and sustainable bilateral contacts. 

Illustration of rooted lobbyism: The Commission “Civil Dialogue Groups” tool

Fundamentally, as suggested by Le Monde, one has to take a closer look at the “Civil Dialogue Groups (CDGs) created by the Commission to structurally understand the privileged access of COPA COGECA in the corridors of the EU. For the Commission, the original goal of those CDGs was to obtain information on topics such as agriculture and to promote true dialogue with civil society organizations (NGOs, businesses, …). However, this objective of transparency is far from being reached, and this can be partly explained by the involvement of COPA COGECA in the CDGs. In the DG Agriculture expert group, the CEO advances that COPA COGECA occupies 442 out of the total 943 seats and that group meetings are often held according to the internal schedule of the COPA members. In the Civil Dialogue Group on Direct Payments and Greening, the situation is rather similar, with 28 of the 72 seats held by COPA COGECA. In 2019, investigations highlighted that COPA-COGECA chaired eight out of the thirteen CDGs. 

Despite concerns of “abuse of power” raised by several participants in the CDGs, and the will of the Commission to “rationalize” those meetings to improve their efficiency, COPA COGECA does not seem to be open for change. Rather than promoting a more interactive format within those meetings, COPA COGECA has at several occasions questioned the role of NGOs in CDGs meetings and proposed the organization of more regular meetings between the chairmanships of the CDGs on international issues. C.Nissens, Agriculture Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), sums up this situation by underlining that “meetings could have been more useful, but that COPE COGECA is blocking any changes to that end”. 

Privileged access in the Council

In an attempt to picture the broad and rooted lobbying of COPA COGECA within the EU, the MEP P.Lamberts and O. De Schutter, copresident of the international expert panel IPES Food, gave their opinion in the Belgian newspaper Le Vif about the privileged access of COPA COGECA in the Council. They denounce the multiple solicitations the lobby receives to take part in the Council of Ministers of Agriculture of the EU. In line with them, Lora Verheecke, a researcher on corporate lobbying in Brussels, currently working at “Friends of the Earth”, underlines the informal and close bonds between the lobby and political decision-makers. Besides the problematic intimate link at stake, she emphasizes the fact that COPA-COGECA is designed in a way that will mainly defend interests of agro-businesses and industries in front of the Council and the EU, at the expense of small farmers and agricultural productions. 

No Hope for change? 

With the influence of COPA COGECA on the CAP reform, and its rooted lobbying within the EU aiming at preserving a status quo situation, hopes for a substantial greening of the EU agricultural policy seem rather low. 

But at the time of writing, negotiations on the future orientations of the EU budget for the next seven years are still open, which might change the deal. The inclusion of binding budgetary clauses, such as the obligation to devote 30% of the budget to the fight against climate change and the obligation to allocate 10% of spending to the fight against the collapse of biodiversity, might force the EU to reconsider anti-climate policies, such as the CAP reform voted in October by the EP.

This article was first published in the 33rd issue of the magazine. Read the entire issue here.

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