The Common Agriculture Policy deal does not deviate much from previous lines. Photo: flickr.com marfis75 cc by-sa
The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period 2014–2020 was sold as a green reform, when the Commission launched its proposal a bit more than a year ago. For the first time, direct payments, the EU budget’s biggest single expenditure, would require certain environmental standards.
When the Parliament and the Council presented their final agreement 25 June, there was no applause from green groups. Friends of the Earth described it as an “environmental disaster” and Trees Robijns from Bird Life commented: “Disguising this round of reform as green does not represent the truth. European citizens pay for this policy through their taxes and they have a right to know that the final deal is little more than greenwash.”
However the new CAP retains the principle of greening of direct payments. The basic rule is that the last thirty per cent will only be paid if a farm meets requirements in three areas: crop diversification, protection of permanent grasslands and creation of ecological focus areas. But critics argue that standards have been set at ankle height and a large proportion of all farms are covered by various exceptions.
For instance, in the original proposal all farms with more than three hectares of land would be required to grow three different crops. In the final outcome only farms with more than 30 hectares have to apply this standard. Farms between 10 and 30 hectares only have to grow two types of crops, while all others are completely exempt. According to the Commission these exceptions from the three crops requirement correspond to around 94 per cent of all EU farms and 46 per cent of all farmland.
There has also been a watering down of the rules of cross-compliance, i.e. requirements that farms comply with other EU legislation in order to gain access to CAP funds. Inclusion of the water framework directive and the legislation of sustainable pesticide use were rejected. In addition key elements of existing legislation have been removed from the cross-compliance systems, including elements from the Birds & Habitats Directives.
One of the few positive outcomes is that member states now have the option to move 15 per cent of funds in pillar one (direct payments) to pillar two (i.e. rural development programme). It is highly uncertain to what extent member states will make use of this, but if so, it could mean increased funding for environmental measures. Less encouraging is that member states also have the possibility of moving 15 to 25 per cent of funds in the opposite direction.
Another new addition is that 30 per cent of the funds in the rural development programme are earmarked for environmental and climate-related measures. However the definition is wide and includes several measures with zero or little environmental delivery.
The amount of environmental benefit achieved in the end will to a large extent be determined by how member states choose to use the flexibility within the rural development programme. The previous lack of ambition in many of the national programmes is described by Bird Life as follows: “many of these so-called environmental measures are little more than income support in disguise”, and they conclude “it is vital that they [member states] make the best of the deal at home and do all they can to protect the environment with the limited tools and funding available.”