Lost opportunity to reform Common Agricultural Policy

Wednesday 26th June 2013

(credit Paul Harris/2020Vision)

Today, a deal for European farmers that weakens many of the original proposals to green the Common Agricultural Policy was presented to MEPs. Measures that will benefit nature have been watered down in a series of exemptions and by the reduction of areas that farmers will be required to identify for nature (Ecological Focus Areas) from 7% to 5% and these areas will only apply to arable farms over 15 hectares.

This means that over 35% of farmland across the EU will not need to have areas identified for nature, even though these farmers will continue to receive direct payments from the public purse.  In addition, the option for Member States to deliver Ecological Focus Areas at a regional level instead of on every farm has removed the original sentiment behind the European Commission’s greening proposal – that every farmer should do something positive for the environment. The Wildlife Trusts believe that coupled with budget cuts, this outcome does not come anywhere near to enhancing future prospects for nature across Europe.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts explains:
“Unfortunately Member States and MEPs have failed to grasp an historic opportunity to green agriculture across the European Union.  This deal is bad news for Europe’s natural heritage – it means no ‘greening’ whatsoever across a significant percentage of Europe’s agricultural landscape.  This poor outcome makes a mockery of the principle of the greening of European agriculture for wildlife and sustainable farming.”

The Wildlife Trusts have been calling for a Common Agricultural Policy which ensures that:
• All farmers and land managers undertake ‘greening’ measures that will help protect and restore nature in return for direct payments from the CAP
• Dedicated support is provided for nature-friendly farmers and land managers;
• There are no double subsidies- where a farmer or land manager would be paid twice for the same activity, to ensure that public money is not wasted;
• All farmers and land managers have to comply with all relevant EU environmental regulations in order to receive their CAP payments, such as the Water Framework Directive which ensures our rivers are clean and healthy.

But The Wildlife Trusts believe that the UK Government will be able to use the flexibility that CAP reform has provided for Member States, to maximise positive outcomes for the environment.

Paul Wilkinson explains:
“Because of the flexibility that will be afforded to Member States in the way they deliver greening measures, there is still an opportunity for the UK to adopt an approach that is more robust than the extremely disappointing basic measures agreed today.  We recognise Secretary of State Owen Paterson’s stated commitment to improve the natural environment and call on him to ensure that the value for nature of Ecological Focus Areas and the other greening measures is maximised and to commit to supporting strategic planning of these areas across the farmed landscape.  We need to see these areas linked in a coherent way to well funded new agri-environment schemes.”