European Commission presents options for simplification to reduce the burden for EU farmers

22 February 2024

European Commission presents options for simplification to reduce the burden for EU farmers

By Jenny Brunton, Senior European Policy Advisor

Today, the European Commission sent a paper to the Belgian Presidency outlining first possible actions to help reduce the administrative burden for farmers. The document, which will be discussed with Member States in the agricultural Council of 26 February, lists a range of short- and mid-term actions that can be taken to achieve simplification.

The actions listed in the paper take into account the contributions by national administrations, major EU farming organisations including Copa-Cogeca and CEJA, and the European Parliament's agricultural committee.

  • The Commission will launch in March an online survey : This targeted consultation aims to identify the main sources of concern, and understand the sources of administrative burden and complexity stemming from CAP rules as well as other EU rules for food and agriculture in the EU, and their application at national level. This survey will provide by the summer a clearer picture of the main administrative obstacles perceived and faced by farmers. Its results will be included in a more detailed analysis to be published in Autumn 2024.
  • The Commission proposes to simplify some of the conditionality requirements with which EU farmers need to comply. The set of basic standards- referred to as GAECs (good agricultural and environmental conditions)- that all farmers must comply with to receive their CAP support has proven challenging to implement in certain circumstances.
  • The Commission has already acted by granting for 2024 a partial exemption on rules on land lying fallow (GAEC 8)
  • The Commission proposes to change the rules on GAEC 1 which imposes a requirement to keep areas of permanent grassland in the EU stable since reference year 2018. Under this requirement, former livestock farmers have in some cases been required to reconvert their arable land into permanent grassland. This obligation could lead to loss of income for the farmers concerned. The Commission proposes to amend these rules by mid-March to ensure that structural changes caused by market reorientation and reduction in livestock are taken into account.
  • The Commission will also review which agricultural practices may be possible during sensitive periods when fulfilling the obligation to cover soils under GAEC 6.
  • The Commission is also encouraging all stakeholders to share their view on the administrative burden that may be linked to the Nitrates Directive. This can be done via the online public consultation open until 8 March 2024. BAB is submitting a joint response on this from the UK Farming Unions.
  • The Commission proposes to simplify the methodology for certain checks, aiming to reduce the number of on-farm visits by national administrations by up to 50%. This measure directly responds to requests from Member States. The Commission proposes to streamline and clarify how to assess the quality of the Area Monitoring System. The latter is a system based on automated analysis of satellite imagery from Copernicus, meant to reduce inspections on farms, help farmers to avoid errors and incur penalties, as well as facilitate reporting.
  • The Commission proposes to clarify the use of the concept of force majeure and exceptional circumstances. This legal concept permits that farmers who cannot fulfil all their CAP requirements due to exceptional and unforeseeable events outside their control (such as in cases of severe droughts or floods) do not have penalties imposed on them. The Commission will work with Member States to determine possible ways of rationalising controls.
  • The Commission also mentions additional mid-term measures that may ease burdens for farmers, especially smaller farmers, and may consider proposing changes to that effect to the CAP basic Regulations agreed upon by the European Parliament and the Council in 2021.
  • One proposal put forward may be to exempt small farms of under 10 hectares from controls related to compliance with conditionality requirements (GAECs). This exemption would significantly simplify the daily work of small farmers who represent 65% of CAP beneficiaries, while maintaining the CAP's environmental ambitions since small farms cover only 9,6% of the areas receiving CAP support. Additionally, should the basic Regulations be changed in the mid-term, GAEC 8 on land lying fallow, GAEC 7 on crop rotation and GAEC 6 on soil cover could be reviewed to further reduce burden for farmers.

To further respond to the current crisis situation in the agricultural sector, the Commission is also working on actions to improve the position of farmers in the food chain and protect them against unfair trading practices, which will be presented shortly. Given that farmers are often the most vulnerable link in the food value chain, these actions may cover issues such as market transparency, trading practices in the value chain, costs of production, or more homogeneous control of existing rules on imported agricultural products.


Farmers’ protest in Brussels planned for Monday.

Farmers are planning another protest next Monday (26 February), aiming to mobilise in Brussels at the Schuman roundabout from 11am. The protest will take place on the sidelines of a meeting of European agriculture ministers discussing the simplification proposals.

The protest is fuelled by unhappiness at the European Commission’s response to protests in early February which aimed to draw attention to issues the sector says it is facing: too much red tape, not enough profit and worries about the financial sustainability of family farms. The Fédération Wallonne de l'Agriculture (FWA), Boerenbond, MAP, the Fédération des Jeunes Agriculteurs (FJA) and the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) confirmed their participation in next Monday’s action, though there are not yet any details on the number of demonstrators expected. The federations are calling for an end to free trade agreements, a halt to negotiations on the EU-Mercosur agreement, and a guarantee of a strong Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to support agro-ecological practices.