WWF criticises EU agricultural reform plan

European Commission proposals "leave environment at the periphery" of EU policy

European Commission proposals to reform the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) "continue to leave the environment at the periphery," the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said yesterday. In a position paper released as EU agriculture ministers prepare to discuss CAP reform on Monday, the WWF urged further changes, recognising the policy's "widespread impact...on Europe's nature, wildlife and wider environment".

Production-related financial support for Europe's farmers is the root cause of the environmental problems the policy causes and must go, the WWF urges. In its current state, the group says, the reform proposals "do not go far enough to shift policy from production-related support towards environmental and sustainable rural development measures".

Compensatory direct payments should be phased out over time, according to WWF. In the interim, it wants all direct payments to be made dependent on farmers meeting "environmental baseline standards," and urges the European Commission to propose standards for adoption by all EU member states.

The group also wants to see a greater proportion of CAP funding going to agri-environmental and sustainable rural development programmes. By 2006, it says, 25% of the CAP Guarantee budget should be shifted to agri-environmental measures and 50% to sustainable rural development programmes.

Under its Agenda 2000 proposals covering eastwards-expansion of the European Union and reform of the CAP, the Commission has proposed increasing the profile of agri-environmental funding. But according to the WWF it is doubtful whether there will be enough money available under present plans to achieve this in practice.

Broad-based agri-environmental schemes "should be available to all farmers to maintain or improve the environmental value of their land," the WWF says. It argues that the Commission's proposal to "enable" member states to introduce environmental conditions on direct payments has been shown by experience "to be ineffective".

Another criticism levelled at the Commission's proposals concerns planned extension of CAP funding to central and eastern European countries queuing to join the EU early in the next century. According to WWF, Ecu2.5bn has been forecast for specific rural development accompanying measures by 2006 for the new member states "without a single reference to the environment or nature protection".

Follow Up:
WWF, tel: +32 2 743 8800.

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