The Ninth Legislature of the European Parliament concluded its five-year term on 25 April 2024. It was strongly shaped by the flagship project of the von der Leyen Commission: the European Green Deal. The Green Deal is not a single strategy, but rather the name given to an array of environmental measures outlined by the Commission with the objective of bringing about an economic and societal “Green transition”.

Among the success stories in this regard, the European Parliament has recently adopted its mandate on the proposed Soil Monitoring Law, which is to introduce crucial measures aimed at assessing and improving soil health across Member States. The new law mandates the establishment of so-called ‘soil districts’ and defines the competent authorities for monitoring purposes, with assessments to be conducted every five years based on specific parameters such as soil type, climate, and land use. It also establishes mechanisms for voluntary soil health certification for landowners and managers, as well as public disclosure of areas with unhealthy soils within each district.

While hailed as a significant step forward for European soil health, critics argue that the law falls short of the ambitious targets that had been contemplated, as it lacks mandatory national restoration plans and binding restoration goals for Member States. The very fact that it was proposed as a Soil Monitoring Law rather than a broader, stricter Soil Health Law, as originally envisaged, attests to the political difficulties surrounding the topic. The Council is expected to adopt its general approach in the coming months, and work on the proposal should be concluded in the next Legislature.

In addition to that, one of the EU’s most important agri-food policy instruments has been (and remains) the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). For long the subject of dispute between its recipients, i.e. farmers, and its organisers, i.e. the EU, the CAP was once again at the forefront of EU policymaking in 2023 and 2024. The massive farmer-led protests that began in the Netherlands and soon spread across the EU pushed back against greater environmental conditionalities that had been attached to CAP funds. In response, the European Parliament greenlit a "CAP simplification package" aimed at streamlining the bureaucratic processes involved and relaxing environmental standards for farmers seeking CAP funds.

Among the proposed changes, six of the nine Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs) are being modified. These adjustments include exemptions for certain crops from the requirement to use soil-friendly cultivation techniques (GAEC 5), more flexibility for Member States in interpreting rules related to cultivation in bare soils (GAEC 6), changes in the reference years for peatland preservation (GAEC 1), and a shift from mandatory to voluntary for several environmental prerequisites that CAP payments had previously been dependent upon.

The CAP and soil health initiatives demonstrate the complex interplay between environmental goals and agricultural realities within the EU. Balancing these interests remains a contentious issue, and the upcoming Tenth Legislature will need to navigate these challenges carefully to build on the progress made to date and address the shortcomings identified during the Ninth Legislature.