5 farming folk to keep an eye on as CAP reforms advance

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The Common Agricultural Policy is a perennially contentious point of debate in Brussels | Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

Changemakers: Agriculture and Food

From ministers to a blogging professor, these are the names to watch.

This article is part of POLITICO‘s Changemakers series, looking at the players driving European policy.

Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy is supposed to be a guarantor of food security, landscapes and the continuity of rural life. But it is also the source of around 10 percent of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and a key driver of biodiversity loss and waterways clogged with algae.

The Commission’s CAP reform addresses this with new environmental conditionalities for direct payments. In the long term, these may allow the sector to claim that it is pulling more of its environmental weight. In the short term though, they coincide with a cut to the CAP budget of at least 5 percent, which has left countries complaining that they are being asked to do more with less.

Here are five personalities who will be attempting to square such circles, and to switch on the new reform:

Julia Klöckner, German agriculture minister

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Klöckner rose to prominence as Germany’s “wine queen,” a sort of ambassadorial face for Rieslings and Spätburgunders. She stayed close to her farming roots in Western Germany where she grew up, driving a tractor and tending to horses, cows and pigs. She also trained as a journalist, and edited the Weinwelt and Sommelier magazines between 2000 and 2010. Once talked of as a potential post-Merkel chancellor, she is now widely expected to be the Council president who lands the CAP reform package – and becomes its public face.

For Germany’s presidency from July, Klöckner must walk a tightrope. Across Europe, farmers are increasingly protesting over retail prices and fertilizer rules. She will have to deal with Eastern Europe’s grievances over imbalances in CAP funding and the emphasis on green reforms, France’s fixation with pesticides and Mediterranean concerns over U.S. tariffs.

Crucially, Klöckner will have to persuade EU ministers that the resources they are being offered are up to the task they face. In that respect, her recent “farmers billion” offer of money for accepting EU nitrate regulations gives a hint of strategies to come.

Janusz Wojciechowski, agriculture commissioner

Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

Wojciechowski is a member of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party who cut his political teeth — and made key contacts — in Brussels as vice chair of the agriculture committee between 2004 and 2016. While he hails from a farming family, Wojciechowski has an independent streak and in his time at the European Court of Auditors he advocated for animal welfare, condemned EU inaction on air pollution and slammed agriculture’s role as “the largest contributor to biodiversity loss.”

That independence will now be tested. He will need to balance farm industry demands and those of the environmental and animal welfare communities he was perceived as being close to. A judge by training, his legal background may come into its own during the technical and politically fraught negotiations to come over the CAP reform’s final shape.

Herbert Dorfmann, European People’s Party coordinator on the European Parliament agriculture committee

Christian Creutz/European Union

An Italian agronomist from Italy’s German-speaking South Tyrolean borderlands, Dorfmann has a reputation as a bridge-builder between the EPP’s German and other caucuses. As the EPP’s coordinator, he has been tasked by his party with helping steward the CAP reform package through Parliament — along with Norbert Lins, the committee chair. Dorfmann is a measured performer and good communicator. His own-initiative CAP reform report prefigured the Commission’s proposal in 2018. He will be influential in deciding EPP positions ahead of negotiations to come.

Dorfmann will also have to help the EPP reach a compromise with the environment committee. Any failure there would cast doubt on the likelihood of the package getting through Parliament. Assuming it does, the hard work would then begin. EU countries, which have already weakened some of the Commission’s original green commitments, could demand that the CAP budget be maintained at current levels as the price for tacking back to the first draft. Any moves to go further than this via the Farm to Fork strategy or the European Green Deal could strain his bridge-building capacities.

Marija Vučković, Croatian agriculture minister

Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Vučković’s tenure as the EU’s Agriculture Council president got off to an assured start in January, with convincing performances in Council and at the European Parliament, where she drew two rounds of applause at the AGRI committee. A former deputy mayor of Dubrovnik-Neretva, Vučković is a 45-year-old economics graduate with a background in corporate finance. Described by colleagues as nerdy, with an impressive memory and an eye for detail, her bean-counting preparations for the deal expected to reach fruition under the Germans will be closely followed.

One of Vučković’s key tasks will be to close the transitional regulation file, ensuring continuity in payments and policy between the coming CAP and the one just gone. Until a final EU budget is agreed, little movement is expected on the wider issues of sustainability, capping and “external convergence” (the levelling of payments between newer and older EU members). When EU leaders sign off on a new MFF, however, the pace of CAP negotiations will speed up dramatically. Vučković will then be presiding over ministerial CAP haggles, while simultaneously navigating the Commission’s (linked) Farm to Fork strategy, due to be published in late March. If money is the manure from which new policy growth comes, it is as well that the EU will have an economist to spread it around.

Alan Matthews, Trinity College, Dublin

Photo via Alan Matthews

Not a politician, civil servant or lobbyist, Professor Alan Matthews has built a formidable reputation as one of Europe’s premier CAP analysts. An influential blogger, tweeter and commentator, Matthews is followed avidly by environmentalists and EU officials alike. Agricultural takes on his Capreform.eu blog regularly percolate up into policy debate where their green-leaning positions are afforded respectful attention by policymakers. Matthews is known for analytical deconstructions of CAP figures. He has previously worked as a consultant for the OECD, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and the U.N. industrial development organization. A former president of the European Association of Agricultural Economists, he currently sits on Ireland’s climate change advisory council and has previously been a panelist on a number of WTO dispute-settlement processes.

This article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.

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