Greening Grows Gradually Greyer

In quick succession two papers on greening recently appeared: a working paper presented to the Special Committee on Agriculture and the Agriculture Council by Luxembourg (27/04/12) and a Concept paper by the Commission (11/5/12).

The Luxembourg paper expressed the view of many Member States that the Commission’s legislative proposals on greening direct payments offer too little ‘flexibility’. The paper suggests Member States could choose to apply greening in their territory using, essentially, one of three options:

  • A Divert [10%] of direct payment funds to expand agri-environment schemes, 100% EU funded.
  • B Expand the range of farms classified as ‘green by definition’ along side organic; AND expand the greening actions from 3 to 9 offering Member States or farmers greater choice as to which actions they carry out; AND make the greening payment independent of the basic payment.
  • C Incorporate the greening actions into cross compliance, whilst also allowing the wider ‘green by definition’ requirements.

The Commission’s Greening Concept paper is more limited in scope, raising three matters. It suggests widening the categories of farms which are ‘green by definition’ but not nearly as far as the Luxembourg paper. It provides helpful clarifications on permanent grassland rules for environmental reasons - and a more flexible form of crop diversification – mostly to make it less demanding for some groups of farmers. Implicitly, by not mentioning them, the Commission rejects the suggestions of Options A and C in the Luxembourg paper, and opening up a choice of greening actions.

It is helpful to the greening debate that these issues are now out in the open. From an environmental perspective there are still an alarming number of matters which are open and could just as easily result in a reduction of environmental delivery from Europe’s farmers as the intended increase in environmental performance. It is sensible to consider some degree of tailoring and flexibility in implementation so that greening can be better targeted to local conditions. But this must be disciplined and led by clear criteria so that environmental added value is achieved rather than a weakening of environment outcomes. If more flexible and more varied models of greening are to be permitted, the evidence base for this must be robust and in due course supported by a policy tool kit, for assessing the outcomes of greening.

Between them these papers underline the importance of some critical issues in policy design if substantive greening is to be achieved. These include the appropriate relationship between Pillar 1 greening elements and existing agri-environment schemes; the avoidance of wasteful double funding and the identification of the “reference level” above which it is legitimate to pay farmers for environmental provision.

The next stage in this debate will be provided by the report of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee on the proposals and the debates that ensue.

PUBLICATION DATE

14 Jun 2012