England flaunts green reforms while EU stays in hock to farmers

England on Monday issued a tough timeline for its farmers to wean themselves off subsidies and take a more climate-friendly tack, just as the EU is facing political heat for prioritizing agricultural protectionism over green goals.

In England’s post-Brexit “agricultural transition plan,” U.K. farm minister George Eustice mapped out how direct farm subsidies will be cut dramatically — in many cases by more than half — by 2024 and phased out three years later.

The restructuring of farm subsidies in line with concerns about climate change is one area where Britain has been able to be more nimble than it could have been while still a member of the EU, operating within the bloc’s €48 billion-per-year Common Agricultural Policy.

While many policymakers in Brussels also want to switch away from the EU’s long-standing direct subsidies based on land ownership to payments only for farmers who are working toward green goals, it has proved almost impossible to build consensus for a sweeping overhaul of EU agriculture in the face of powerful food-producing countries like Italy and Poland and the farm industry lobby.

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has taken a frontline role in accusing the EU of hypocrisy for styling itself as a climate leader while simultaneously backing an old-school CAP that avoids imposing a big environmental shake-up on EU farming practices.

In England’s case, however, Eustice charted a rapid reduction of payments, structured in bands somewhat like tax brackets. For farmers earning less than £30,000 annually, the cuts will rise from 5 percent in 2021 to 50 percent in 2024, the farm blueprint says. Once above that level, the cuts will become steeper. Farmers earning over £150,000 a year will see their highest band basic payments cut by 25 percent next year,

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