Ciolos puts greening at heart of CAP reform plans
EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos has outlined plans for a new, greener Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to come in, in theory, from 2014.
At the centre of the reforms is a proposal to link 30 per cent of direct payments to environmental requirements that could force farmers to take land out of production.
In addition to a Basic Payment, each holding will receive an additional payment per hectare for certain ‘compulsory’ practices ‘beneficial for the climate and the environment’, Mr Ciolos has announced.
Controversially these include dedicating 7 per cent of land - excluding permanent grassland – as ‘ecological focus area’. This could include field margins, hedges, trees, fallow land, landscape features, biotopes, buffer strips and afforested area.
The other greening measures include maintaining permanent pasture and crop diversification. Under the latter a farmer must cultivate at least three crops on arable land, with none accounting for more than 70 per cent of land and none less than 5 per cent.
The proposals also include plans to cap the highest payments, and support small and young farmers and farmers operating in areas of natural constraint.
The active farmer definition in order to qualify for the Basic Payment Scheme will require that at least 5 per cent of total receipts should come from agricultural activity, and’ minimum activity should be carried out on land’, subject to cross-compliance requirements.
Mr Ciolos told MEPs the reformed CAP will make it possible to ‘promote innovation, strengthen both the economic and ecological competitiveness of the agricultural sector, combat climate change, and sustain employment and growth’.
He said the greening element was a ‘win, win’, as it would help ensure the cap was ‘economically and environmentally sustainable’. He said the measures would help soil quality, forest and biodiversity but insisted they would not be a major burden for farmers.
“The European Commission is proposing a new partnership between Europe and its farmers in order to meet the challenges of food security, sustainable use of natural resources and growth,” he said.
However, MEPs lined up to condemn the proposals, following his presentation, .
Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon described the package as a ‘Greenwash’, which he said would make farmers ‘less competitive’. He warned that the reforms were heading ‘into a cul de sac’.
A number of MEPs, including German Albert who published a report on Parliament’s view of the proposals, raised concern about the levels of bureaucracy associated withy the plans.
Mr Dess also warned that taking land out of production as part of the greening could hampers the EU’s ability to produce food.
Northern Ireland MEP James Nicholson, agriculture spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists group, said: “This is not a reform of the CAP but a regression.
“Previous reforms have focused on making agriculture more market orientated. This reform takes a step backwards.
“Farmers just want to do what they do best: produce food. These proposals put yet more obstacles in their way.”
But responding to his critics, Mr Ciolis reminded MEPs they were dealing with ‘realpolitik’, including ongoing negotiations over the EU and CAP budgets.