Conservation groups have condemned a move by European agricultural ministers to tone down some of the most controversial environmental proposals in the next phase of the EU's farm support programme.
Agricultural and fisheries ministers from the 27 EU countries called yesterday (15 May) for replacing conservation measures recommended by the European Commission with a more flexible system.
The decision was not a surprise – ministers have indicated in the past that there was little political appetite for creating requirements in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that tie direct payments to farmers to measures aimed at cutting carbon emissions and reducing other pollutants.
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which represents a coalition of green groups, has lobbied for stronger conservation measures in the CAP and accused the ministers of “sabotage” for striking three central provisions proposed by the EU executive to prod farmers to improve their environmental performance.
“This attempt to sabotage the greening of the CAP threatens to jeopardise this perhaps last opportunity to provide legitimacy to the CAP,” said Faustine Defossez, agriculture campaigner at the EEB.
“Under the pretext of simplification, the Council would not only fail to justify why such vast sums of EU money are been spent under the CAP at a time when governments around Europe are forced to make painful cuts in expenditures, but will also increase administrative burdens,” she said.
Tony Long, director of WWF’s European Policy Office, called the decision “truly depressing”.
The EU executive’s plan for the ‘greening the CAP’ centred on:
- Expanding permanents grasslands;
- Using direct payments to encourage farmers to rotate crops as a way to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use;
- Preserve at least 7% of land for ecological focus areas to help reduce emissions.
Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolo? has called the proposals for the next CAP – which he introduced in October 2011 – “both simple and efficient”.
But the agriculture ministers' Council – debating the proposals in Brussels – thought differently. Their decision calls for replacing the three greening targets with a “menu” that farmers could choose from, although it did not specify what it should include.
“Such a flexible approach would help to take into account the diversity of agriculture in the EU and would avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” the Council said in a statement released yesterday.
Similar concerns have been raised during meetings hosted in the European Parliament last year and by Poland during its rotating presidency of the EU. Parliament is currently debating the CAP proposals that will cover 2014-2020.
Meanwhile, farm groups and some national representatives have testified in the European Parliament they fear the EU executive’s greening proposals could cause administrative headaches and even drive smaller farmers out of business – defeating goals to encourage small-scale production and to bring young people into a rapidly ageing industry.