The CAP Proposals: Green in more than name?

Today’s proposals from the Commission on the future CAP could have represented a major step towards improved environmental management across the EU, but in practice they leave major doubts over how much really will be delivered.

Bold ambitions to green the CAP have become diluted by a focus on increasing the legitimacy of direct payments to farmers - at the expense of measures capable of maximising the delivery of environmental public goods. One of the reasons for this is that the new green payments under Pillar 1 have to be applicable in all parts of the EU and paid annually. This creates real challenges for sustaining substantive environmental improvements over time.

Nonetheless making some forms of environmental management virtually compulsory in most farming systems should lead to some improvements in soil, air and water quality as well as biodiversity, particularly in more intensively farmed regions where uptake of agri-environment schemes remains low. In theory, this could also free up funding for more ambitious agri-environment measures under Pillar 2. Of course, the precise impact of the Pillar 1 proposals will vary considerably within Europe. It will depend partly on the rules about what is required in practice, particularly for the types of management that will make up the seven per cent of land under Ecological Focus Areas, the most striking element of the package.

Climate change is signalled as an important issue for the CAP for the first time in these proposals, which is to be welcomed. Some measures should assist towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Examples are the new cross compliance (Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition) standards on maintaining soil organic matter and protecting wetlands and carbon rich soils and the earmarking of funds in Pillar 2. Perversely, however, the new rules to maintain permanent grassland do not provide protection until 2014, which could lead to significant losses in the interim.

Rural development policy remains the key element of the CAP for delivering public goods. Restructured around a series of six priorities, the majority of current measures have been grouped together in an attempt to make it more streamlined and flexible to implement. It is welcome to see the proposals to earmark 25 per cent of rural development funds for ‘issues related to land management and the fight against climate change’. However, the proposed rural development budget will suffer a decline in real terms for 2014-2020. This could be countered in those countries which take advantage of the option to move 10 per cent of Pillar 1 funds to Pillar 2. Conversely, and particularly disappointing, is the ability for a selection of Member States to be able to transfer funding from Pillar 2 to top up their Pillar 1 funding. This goes counter to political commitments made in June at the time of the Budget announcement to maintain a strong Pillar 2.

On a positive note, there is clear progress on several fronts, in particular the increased emphasis on advice and training in Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, collaborative action to promote environmentally beneficial management at the landscape scale and the extension of monitoring and evaluation requirements from Pillar 2 to cover all elements of CAP support. In addition, the introduction of the new European Innovation Partnership initiative for agricultural productivity and sustainability could prove to be an important catalyst for the development of solutions that promote increased food production but in a way that is compatible with the delivery of the full range of ecosystem services.

The legislative proposals and impact assessment can be found here.

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12 Oct 2011


David Baldock and Kaley Hart