The role of the CAP in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020

At the Environment Council on 19 December 2011, the EU Environment Ministers decided to omit certain details concerning the third target which outlines the role of European agriculture in meeting the EU 2020 biodiversity targets. This came following strong opposition from several Member States led by the German Environment Minister, Norbert Rӧttgen, who claimed that this drafted text was too closely linked to talks on the future CAP and might falsely pre-empt the ongoing negotiations.

The proposals for a new Biodiversity Strategy, published on 4 May 2011, outline six priority targets needed to meet the biodiversity objectives for 2020. The original text for target three, which specifically relates to agricultural and forestry land use, proposes ‘to maximise the potential of the CAP for delivering biodiversity objectives and introduce Forest Management Plans to ensure the conservation of biodiversity is provided’. Under Article 22, this target was outlined in detail as: ‘Maximising areas under agriculture across grasslands, arable land and permanent crops that are covered by biodiversity-related measures under the CAP so as to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and to bring about a measurable improvement in the conservation status of species and habitats that depend on or are affected by agriculture and in the provision of ecosystem services as compared to the EU 2010 Baseline, thus contributing to enhance sustainable management’ (see CAP2020 article: 11 May 2011). At the Environment Council meeting, Ministers agreed to delete Article 22 from the draft proposals, whilst a more generic Article 21 remains, that ‘notes the Commission proposals of 12 October 2011 for a reform of the CAP; and recognises in particular the importance of an enhanced contribution of the agricultural sector to the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 ’.

The EU Environment Commissioner, Janez Potočnik, has expressed regret that ‘all concrete indications on the required way forward to strengthen the contribution of the CAP to biodiversity objectives’ have been eliminated from the proposals. He has maintained however, that the Commission priorities to maintain permanent grasslands, introduce Ecological Focus Areas, and ensure crop diversification, as outlined in the CAP proposals which were published on 12 October 2011, would ‘continue to guide the Commission’s position in inter-institutional discussions on the reform of the CAP’.

Although the conclusions of the Environment Council note that Ministers agree on the important role of agriculture in maintaining and restoring biodiversity, it is disappointing that the EU Biodiversity Strategy no longer includes any concrete targets to support the achievement of this in practice. Representatives from environmental stakeholders (such as BirdLife Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe and WWF) in particular have strongly criticised the outcome, with BirdLife Europe stressing that that ‘biodiversity can’t be held hostage to agricultural interests’.

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11 Jan 2012