European Parliament: The CAP should be a key tool for biodiversity conservation in the EU

A resolution on the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, adopted on 20 April by the European Parliament (EP) stresses that biodiversity should become a much higher political priority and should be better integrated into existing EU policies. In particular, it states that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should be a key tool for the conservation of biodiversity, alongside its role in food production and rural development. The forthcoming reform of the CAP, in conjunction with decisions on the next Multiannual Financial Framework, are key to halting the loss of biodiversity.

The resolution recognises that the CAP already addresses environmental concerns to some extent. However, it notes that so far the environmental measures such as decoupling, cross-compliance and agri-environment payments have failed to halt the overall decline of farmland biodiversity. To improve the situation in the future, the EP advocate a major shift in emphasis of the CAP to provide compensation to farmers for delivering public goods. The resolution welcomes the proposed greening of Pillar 1 as a way to ‘ensure the conservation of biodiversity in the wider farmed landscape, improve connectivity and adapt to the effects of climate change’, while calling for a modification of the current proposals to introduce a bonus for farmers in Natura 2000 areas. It also flags that the greening measures, in their current form, do not address the diversity of agricultural ecosystems across the EU, with particular gaps noted for certain Mediterranean ecosystems that are critical for maintaining biodiversity, such as olive groves, vineyards, apple orchards and rice crops. MEPs also call for ‘robust cross compliance’ that should cover not only the legislation on birds and habitats, but also legal provisions relating to water, pesticides and biocides.

Regarding rural development policy, the EP highlights the need to strengthen its budget and calls for ‘drastic improvements in all Member States to the environmental focus of that pillar and to the effectiveness of its agri-environmental measures’. MEPs state that there needs to be a clear provision for minimum mandatory spending on environmental measures, including the agri-environment-climate, Natura 2000 and forest environment measures, and to High Nature Value and organic farming. Harking back to the special report on agri-environment published by the European Court of Auditors last year, the EP resolution insists that in the future, the provision of agri-environment support should be linked to clear environmental criteria. The resolution also raises concerns about the risk of land abandonment in certain part of Europe, emphasising the need for ongoing management to maintain certain agricultural habitats that are particularly important for biodiversity.

The resolution represents a slightly weakened version of the text passed in March by the Environment Committee of the European Parliament. Most notable amongst the provisions that have been removed during the vote by the full Parliament, include the call for earmarking at least one per cent of the EU budget for the 2014-20 period for environmental protection, and a recommendation that ecological performance should be a focal point of the European Innovation Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture and Productivity.

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24 Apr 2012