The move follows Commission guidelines earlier this year warning member states they would not receive regional aid under the EU's structural funds if they could not guarantee that the money would not finance projects affecting EU nature protection sites nominated under the 1976 birds and 1992 habitats directives (ENDS Daily 16 March).
"In order to assure the coherence of Community policy, it appears necessary to apply also these guidelines to the rural development plans financed by the [CAP] and...to extend their scope to the nitrates directive," Mr Fischler told EU member states in a letter dated 25 May and obtained by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Some 90% of funding from the huge CAP budget will not be affected by the move. The rural development budget is nevertheless euros 4bn from 2000 to 2006. Likely targets for the new funding test are farm modernisation, young farmer grants and general training. Agri-environment schemes will not be affected even though they come under the rural development fund because they are aimed at improving the environment, a Commission spokesperson told ENDS Daily.
Under the expanded guidelines, member states will have to provide the Commission with lists of proposed nature protection sites and provide "clear and irrevocable commitments to guarantee consistency of their programmes with the protection of sites" before funding can be granted.
Secondly, they will now have to make "substantial progress" in designating nitrate vulnerable zones in which fertiliser application controls apply under the 1991 nitrates directive, and comply with a separate nitrates code of good farming practice agreed last year.
Thirteen EU member states are currently subject to legal infringement action over the nitrates directive (ENDS Daily 4 April). However, Mr Fischler's spokesman stressed that not all would face funding blocks because not all actions involved a failure to designate nitrate vulnerable zones.
Tony Long of the World Wide Fund for Nature said the action reflected a "mounting frustration" within the Commission at the delays in implementing the three environmental directives. Last week the group claimed that member states had failed to designate enough nature sites for protection (ENDS Daily 15 June).
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