Green benefits of CAP reform stressed

Commission emphasises challenge of environmental integration, indicator development

The European Commission has promoted the environmental benefits of the forthcoming revision of EU agricultural spending policies in a communication prepared jointly by its environment and agriculture directorates.

Issued less than two months before Germany is seeking to broker agreement on new rules for the common agricultural policy (CAP), the communication summarises the environmental implications of the Commission's proposals and puts forward no new policies.

It does, however, stress the continuing need for more work to develop environmental indicators for agriculture, which would play a key role in enabling monitoring of progress towards the integration of environmental concerns fully into the sector. The communication stresses that currently available data can be "misleading" and that "more efforts are needed" to develop new indicators.

The Commission's CAP reform proposals have frequently been criticised by environmental groups as offering too little to green European agriculture (ENDS Daily 15 October 1998). According to the paper, however, they are "balanced" and provide member states and regions with sufficient powers both to ensure minimum environmental standards and to promote practices above these standards.

CAP reform and the environment in summary:

* The "horizontal regulation" establishing rules for direct support schemes will "oblige" member states to apply "appropriate" environmental measures. Governments will have the option to implement them under rural development programmes, by making market payments conditional on observance of environmental laws, or by attaching specific environmental conditions.

* Principal market regimes (covering arable, beef & veal, and milk & milk products) will include specific environmental measures, including extra assistance to extensive beef farms. Member states will have to establish stocking rates taking account of the environmental sensitivity of land. Up to 10% voluntary set-aside can be established.

* Rural development measures will include an invitation to regions to develop integrated sustainable development plans, including compulsory application of "agri-environmental measures". Farmers can be offered training and grants for environmental investments. Organic production will receive more support.

* Agri-environmental measures (payments to farmers voluntarily providing environmental services over and above the demands of environmental laws) have been the "core" of the Commission's environmental strategy for agriculture. "Existing policy lines...are continued," with an increase in the scheme's application to Ecu2.8bn per year.

* Compensatory allowances in less-favoured areas will be continued under the proposed rural development regulation. The main objectives "remain broadly unchanged," but a specific provision is included to clarify that payments may cover the costs of complying with environmental legislation.

* Support for forestry will promote sustainable management.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111. References: "Directions Towards Sustainable Agriculture", COM (1999) 22.

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