cows in stable in Germany

What do the CAP simplification measures mean for animal welfare?

The speedy legislative procedure aiming to exempt 76% of EU farms from compliance with environmental standards is bad news for animals.


In a frantic race against time, the European Commission, European Parliament, and the Council (Agriculture and Fisheries) are sprinting to relax environmental regulations within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Let's explore the implications on animal welfare.


Simplification of the CAP as proposed by the Commission is nothing less than a softening of the GAEC (Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions) environmental standards for the current year and the rest of the funding period as well as the green architecture of the CAP. This is a massive step backwards from the status quo, particularly in terms of environmental policy.  

For example, the conversion of grassland to arable land will be easier, which would be disastrous for the climate balance of agriculture, and the goal of preserving non-productive landscape elements to improve biodiversity will be further suspended, making the preservation of biodiversity in the agricultural landscape more like wishful thinking. 

How is animal welfare affected?

With the Commission’s proposal, small farms with less than 10 hectares of land are to be practically excluded from the conditionality system, which links certain CAP subsidies with obligations in environmental protection, human, animal and plant health and animal welfare.  

While these ‘small farms’ might not sound like much, they represent 76% of all farms in Europe (6.9 million farms) and 11% of all utilised agricultural area (16.9 million hectares), holding 23% of Europe’s livestock (27.3 million livestock units - one livestock unit corresponds to a live weight of 500 kg); which are now all affected by the exemption in Europe. To see all the data, see table below.

Therefore, with no more controls and sanctions, these animals will only be covered by national inspections which in some member states happen every couple of decades. For example, in 2018 an inquiry in the German Bundestag confirmed that in Bavaria a farm is inspected for density control on average every 48 years. 

Until now, the justification for agricultural direct payments was that subsidies were tied to compliance with certain standards; this is all about to change after only two months of legislative process.  


Agriculture and Fisheries Council express "strong desire to give a rapid and robust answer to the farmers demonstrations


European Commission publishes legislative proposal


Council / Special Committee on Agriculture approves proposal and proposes some technical changes


European Parliament decides to use the urgency procedure under Rule 162 of the European Parliament's Rules of Procedure


Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development approves the Commission's legislative proposal and adopts the Council's amendments


European Parliament votes in favor of the legislative proposal

Such a speedy pace is almost unheard of in Brussels. 

The proposal must now be formally adopted by the Council, signed by the representatives of the Council and the European Parliament and published in the Official Journal. But that's just a question of procedure. The Commission will adopt the legal act "in the wording which corresponds to the position of the European Parliament". This was already announced by Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowksi in March and confirmed by the Belgian EU Council Presidency.  

Is this normal?

Normally, a legislative process would follow an inclusive procedure. The Commission submits an impact assessment first, then carries out consultations. All of this is missing here. Instead, the Commission exerted considerable pressure on the Council and Parliament and was not prepared to compromise. The usual trilogue discussions have been cancelled and the rule that "no law comes out of Parliament the way it went in" has found an exception. 

However, if the European Commission makes such fundamental changes in a noticeably short procedure, this calls into question the reform process of the last CAP reform. The last CAP reform was worked on for over three years with the intensive involvement of Parliament and the Council. In contrast, it took only two months to roll back the environmental achievements of the reform, primarily through implementing and delegated acts. The Council and Parliament only have limited rights in this process. 

Not so normal. 

Adding to this, it is society, farmers and animals who might lose out as a result. An intact environment is in everyone's interest. Agriculture uses most of Europe's land area, so the decline in biodiversity and the deterioration of the agricultural sector's carbon footprint is a social problem. For farmers, who have to think in terms of decades when making investments, planning security is now diminishing, as it is unclear whether these changes will even continue. The environmental and animal welfare problems will not disappear, especially with these changes.  

As a result, the CAP is increasingly losing its viable justification for spending taxpayers' money, which was the promotion of public goods and social benefits of agriculture. Citizens and taxpayers are likely to question the added value a policy that is devoid of social benefits.  

What we need instead is a holistic view of the European Common Agricultural Policy that addresses the undeniable challenges of environmental protection and animal welfare and links them to the economic requirements of farmers. These are major tasks. But with the discussions on the upcoming agricultural reform after 2027 already underway, the opportunity is now at hand. 

The CAP simplification measures, in data

Animals, hectares and farms affected by the exception



(in LSU) 



Agricul. area 

(in hectares) 




(in numbers) 



EU 27 27.263.770 23% 16.988.650 11% 6.906.950 76% 
BE 787.540 21% 46.440 3% 9.550 27% 
BG 401.450 38% 201.390 4% 97.220 73% 
CZ 341.850 21% 43.050 1% 11.690 40% 
DK 1.068.420 26% 66.430 3% 13.830 37% 
DE 2.115.010 13% 361.340 2% 66.240 25% 
EE 86.780 30% 24.030 2% 4.090 36% 
IE 407.460 6% 143.440 3% 23.290 18% 
EL 1.117.220 57% 1.149.960 41% 464.050 87% 
ES 6.148.780 37% 1.847.870 8% 603.530 66% 
FR 2.134.070 10% 395.350 1% 111.500 28% 
HR 301.450 40% 335.710 27% 122.970 85% 
IT 2.305.780 24% 2.404.760 20% 885.780 78% 
CY 135.050 58% 48.740 36% 31.810 93% 
LV 63.000 13% 162.590 8% 45.580 66% 
LT 165.080 23% 342.890 12% 92.550 70% 
LU 1.560 1% 1.690 1% 470 25% 
HU 748.640 36% 383.510 8% 178.010 77% 
MT 29.790 93% 9.180 94% 7.610 99% 
NL 2.136.380 34% 73.280 4% 17.390 33% 
AT 200.380 9% 198.880 8% 41.880 38% 
PL 2.453.020 24% 3.732.840 25% 963.170 74% 
PT 990.780 40% 591.230 15% 245.500 85% 
RO 2.508.590 57% 4.004.290 31% 2.768.660 96% 
SI 186.110 38% 206.710 43% 60.530 84% 
SK 150.440 25% 39.040 2% 11.490 59% 
FI 69.180 7% 47.320 2% 7.540 17% 
SE 209.970 13% 126.670 4% 21.120 36% 

(source: Eurostat; data extracted on 20/03/2024) 

Andreas Manz

Andreas Manz

EU Farm Animal Policy Coordinator

+32 2 74 00 888

Rue Ducale 29
1000 Brussels

FOUR PAWS - European Policy Office

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