Green groups decry ‘depressing’ EU farm reform deal

Intensive farming.JPG

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.

 

The organisation representing Europe farmers and farm cooperatives – Copa-Cogeca - had argued that the Commission’s greening proposals would introduce new layers of reporting while threatening farm income by requiring, for example, that 30% of direct payments to linked to greening performance.

Following yesterday's statement by the Council of agricultural ministers calling for changes to the greening proposals, Cogeca President Paolo Bruni outlined some of Copa-Cogeca’s green growth proposals.

“We want the new CAP to encourage green growth because this is the best way to ensure sustainable production and food security – not to mention a more competitive agri-food sector. Such measures will sometimes require investment and will generally be multiannual," he said.

"We believe that farmers who are already carrying out measures which go beyond EU mandatory environmental requirements – for example through certification schemes – should be automatically eligible for the greening payment. Farmers who do not apply the greening measure should not receive the greening premium but they must not be penalised excessively by a cut in their basic direct payment, which was proposed by the Commission. This was also supported by most ministers at their meeting today. We are also proposing the introduction of a new specific measure to encourage green growth on farms in the CAP second pillar”.

Launched in 1962, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a system of EU agricultural subsidies and programmes that marks the biggest single budget outlay for the EU.

The parliament's current discussions on the future CAP are a precursor to jockeying over the farm-support programme. If approved as proposed, the 7-year, €435.6-billion programme would account for nearly 40% of EU's spending. Of that, €317.2 billion would fund direct payments to farmers under Pillar 1 of the CAP.

The Commission’s proposals to expand green space have been a hotly contested issue, with farm organisations and their advocates in Parliament claiming this would create more bureaucracy. Others contend that reducing cultivatable land at a time of high food prices and rising global demand does not make sense.

About 70% of CAP spending goes to direct payments for farmers, 20% of the budget is spent on rural development measures, and the remainder is handed out as export subsidies to food companies. France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain are the biggest beneficiaries.

  • 2014-2020: Next phase of CAP policies and spending

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