Lowland farmland landscape (credit Zsuzsanna Bird)
The machinations of CAP Reform are now in full swing; in principle leading to a new agriculture policy by January 2014. These negotiations, never translucent, are more than usually protracted and unpredictable.
There are several reasons for this. One is that the European Parliament has a full role in the decision for the first time. The Parliament’s view begins life in the Agriculture Committee, traditionally sensitive to producers’ views but ultimately depends on a plenary vote where party and national interests can exert considerable influence. For MEPs it would be attractive to put their own stamp on the new CAP but no strong theme from the Parliament has yet emerged.
Arriving at a workable scheme to enrich biodiversity won’t be easy but is worth fighting for
Disputes over the next EU Budget beyond 2014 also hang over the CAP. The UK is amongst a group of countries pushing for a reduced budget and a smaller CAP but many other governments, including France, are fighting to maintain the CAP Pillar One budget (principally direct payments for farmers) even if overall EU expenditure is scaled back. Support for expanding rural development programmes, including agri-environment measures, has diminished because of reluctance to pay national shares. This is a key reason why the current Commission proposals are based on a freeze in rural development spending and measures to “green” Pillar One.
These measures would take over 30 per cent of direct payments and apply all over Europe. One, dubbed “Ecological Focus Areas” would involve the dedication of seven per cent of the area of arable and permanent crop land to primarily environmental uses, including existing and new features. If implemented sensitively and is well targeted it could enrich the biodiversity of the more intensively farmed countryside very considerably. However, there is strong opposition to this and other greening proposals and obligations on farmers are likely to be watered down. Arriving at a workable scheme to enrich biodiversity won’t be easy but is worth fighting for.
David joined the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) in the mid 1980s to establish a programme of work on agricultural and rural environmental issues. He became Deputy Director in 1992 and Director in 1998. As well as being an authority on European agricultural policy and the environment, David's specialist areas include the implementation of environmental legislation and EU strategy with regard to environmental integration. He has an active interest in sustainable development and the external dimension of European policy.