Chances of a greener CAP are on the line

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Unless there is substantial movement on greening measures and other critical issues in the still-evolving Common Agricultural Policy for 2014-2020, the objective of creating a new purpose and rationale for the CAP is sliding into the sand, argues David Baldock.

David Baldock is executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy in London. He is the author, along with Kaley Hart, of A Greener CAP: Still Within Reach?, released ahead of this week’s meeting of agriculture and fisheries ministers in Brussels.

Between now and the end of June the final act of the long drama of the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) negotiations will come to a climax. Working within the trilogue, this is the last chance for the EU institutions to create a coherent agriculture policy which is both credible and contributes substantially to the provision of environmental public goods in Europe. Alarmingly, however, nearly all the key provisions which effect the environment are both contentious and generally heading in the wrong direction. 

These include the “greening” of direct payments to farmers in Pillar 1 which was central to the original Commission proposals and will account for more than €83 billion over seven years. Both the European Parliament and the Council have introduced measures to limit or weaken the greening proposals in a quite remarkable variety of ways. It is in danger of becoming patchy, limited and excessively variable. For example, the Council’s amendments would result in over 80% of farms in Europe being exempted from the key greening measure, the Ecological Focus Areas. Farms excluded from any obligation would continue to get the full CAP payments, including the greening component. The scale of EFAs would be diminished and forms of land management which are patently not ecological would be included. Another measure, to protect permanent pasture on farms, would also be diminished to the extent that it would have little impact in practice.

On top of this, there is pressure from the Council to accept the principle of double-funding whereby farmers effectively could receive payments from both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 of the CAP for meeting essentially the same environmental requirements. Already rejected by the Parliament in a plenary vote, this would be a particularly unsatisfactory and, under the Lisbon Treaty, an illegal approach. There could be World Trade Organisation consequences as well.

Reinstating an effective form of greening, ruling out double funding and maintaining a reasonable form of cross-compliance which addresses future problems such as the protection of soil carbon would be first steps in a process of bringing some integrity to a more environmentally attuned CAP. This is all the more important since decisions made by heads of state in the budget negotiations in February have already weakened the role of rural development, the part of the policy most associated with environmental and social benefits.

Rural development funding was cut disproportionately more than Pillar 1 and many governments were permitted to shift as much as 25% of their national allocation from Pillar 2 back to Pillar 1. Thus governments are being incentivised to utilise EU funds in forms of agricultural support where environmental ambitions are less demanding and look like being weakened further while the EU meets all the costs (Pillar 1 is 100% EU funded).

To minimise the potential dwindling of environmental spending in Pillar 2, which is likely to flow from this regrettable deal, the Parliament has argued that a quarter of rural development budgets should be reserved solely for agri-environment and related measures. Despite their previous resistance this should not be too difficult an adjustment for the Council and Commission to accept.

Unless there is substantial movement on these and other critical issues, which may appear merely technical from a distance, the underlying objective of creating a new purpose and rationale for the CAP, with a genuine link to environmental benefits, is sliding into the sand.

Some would be quite content if the entire greening initiative ends in disarray. Others, however, continue to believe that agricultural policy could bring much greater benefits for Europe, including more environmental public goods and greater agricultural resilience to climate change, if some robust but achievable steps are taken. They may be more inclined to find fault with the European institutions that together have been reluctant to grasp the nettle.

If the package is not improved, environmental organisations, anticipating a tide of greenwash, will find it difficult to ward off cynicism about the CAP and many of the agricultural players who travel with it. The rest of society is unlikely to be far behind. In this sense the future of the CAP truly is on the line.

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