Dacian Cioloş is the European Commissioner in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development.
"Greening" will be at the heart of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as proposed by the European Commission, and confirmed by last week's agreement among EU leaders on the EU budget for 2014-2020.
In concrete terms, this means that 30% of direct payment to European farmers will be linked to environmentally-friendly agronomic methods.
For the next 7 years, approximately €80 billion will be linked to the provision of environmental public goods through "green" direct payments. Moreover, at least €20 billion of Rural Development funds should be invested in schemes which benefit the environment and climate change.
Taken together, this means that more than €100 billion of EU funds will be invested through the CAP in the sustainability of agriculture. This comes on top of additional support to research and knowledge exchanges and the obligation through "cross-compliance" to respect existing EU rules in terms of environment protection, animal health and welfare.
This represents an unprecedented financial support for EU-wide measures preserving biodiversity, natural resources and fighting climate change.
The CAP will invest both in the environment and the long-term competitiveness of EU agriculture. In agriculture, there is no solid and sustainable competitiveness without preserving natural resources. But at the same time, there is no preserving of natural resources in agriculture without a competitive and profitable agriculture.
With 30% "greening" of direct payments confirmed by EU leaders – still to be voted by the European Parliament – the task ahead now is to define the concrete greening measures. This is one of the major challenges of the upcoming negotiation with the European Parliament and the Member States on CAP reform.
I tabled three simple measures. First, crop diversification – aimed at avoiding soil depletion and biodiversity loss. Second, maintaining permanent pastures – land which is important for carbon sequestration, fighting against soil erosion and keeping a wide range of fauna and flora. Third, 7% ecological focus areas on farms – as farms are not just fields, but include also hedges, agricultural paths, small walls, thickets, buffer strips. All these elements are of a key importance to keeping a good balance within agricultural ecosystems. They play an important role for the good management of water, fertilizers and pesticides, for fighting erosion and biodiversity loss, and for preserving natural landscapes. The CAP must take them into account and help protect them.
While these three measures should be the basic approach for all farmers – and thereby raise the baseline across the EU – we are ready to allow farmers to apply different measures if they are as ambitious and locally more efficient. This flexibility will have to be based on a real equivalence system, with a clear complementarity and no duplication with measures already financed via rural development programmes.
To guarantee the good management of natural resources, while valorising the daily work of farmers, greening must be simple, provide clear results, and place all EU farmers on the same foot, based on the principle that everybody must contribute to environment protection and benefit from it.