Greening of EU farming policy "very limited"

Report commissioned by environmental coalition says CAP reforms will make little difference

The EU has achieved only "very limited" integration of environmental considerations into agricultural policymaking and recent reforms will do little to change the trend, according to a report for NGO coalition the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). The group released the report yesterday, ahead of the Helsinki summit in December, where heads of government will be presented with agriculture ministers' thoughts on further steps for the "Cardiff" integration process (ENDS Daily 22 July).

According to Dutch research institute CLM, existing policies have "not been able to halt the increase" in nitrate pollution levels and have not reduced pesticide use significantly. Both are aims included in the EU's fifth environmental action programme. A reduction of 15% in price supports for arable products under new reforms of the common agricultural policy (CAP) were "not likely to have considerable influence on input use," it concludes (ENDS Daily 11 March).

Former EU environment and agriculture commissioners Ritt Bjerregaard and Franz Fischler stressed that the CAP reform would have environmental benefits in the run-up to its final agreement in March (ENDS Daily 29 January). But CML concludes that the deal was flawed because it decentralised the environmental component of agricultural policy, giving "even greater discretion and fewer obligations" to member states, while maintaining a highly centralised subsidy payments system.

For example, it says, national funding for agri-environment schemes and attaching environmental requirements to subsidy payments, or "cross-compliance," are now "optional" and constitute an "important weakness" in any attempt to make agriculture more sustainable.

To achieve greater integration, the report suggests, environmental policy should be centralised and agricultural policy decentralised. An important step would be to include environmental conditions in any future EU-wide definition of good agricultural practice and to withdraw EU support payments to farmers who did not comply with provisions in legislation such as the nitrates directive.

Responding to the report in a debate held yesterday by the EEB, Martin Scheele of the Commission's agriculture directorate said the changes to the CAP allowed for much greater environmental benefits and said he expected environmental groups to turn their attention to member states to ensure they made full use of its provisions.

Follow Up:
EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090. References: "EU agricultural policy after 2000: Has the Environment Been Integrated?" Available on the EEB's web site.

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