BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 26, 2013 (ENS) – Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy will be reformed so that specific environmental practices will be a condition of payments to EU Member States from central government coffers under an agreement reached today by the European Parliament, the EU Council of Ministers and the European Commission.

The agreement – reached after three years of intense talks and three days of marathon negotiations in Luxembourg and Brussels – marks the first time that a major reform of the CAP has been secured with the involvement of the European Parliament.

officials

Dacian Ciolos, European Commissioner for Agriculture,left; Simon Coveney, Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Photo courtesy European Commission)

Irish Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said it represents the achievement of Ireland’s objective of an overall political accord just days before the conclusion of its EU Presidency at the end of June.

“What we have here is a very balanced package,” Coveney said. “The various elements, from the greening of direct payments, through our treatment of active, small and young farmers to the modernisation of the way in which we implement rural development programmes and monitor the financing and implementation of the CAP, demonstrate how a constructive approach by the European institutions can provide a very positive and modern framework for the ongoing development of the agriculture sector.”

The deal will be endorsed by the Council of Ministers and European Parliament in September and will take effect in 2014.

The CAP budget takes up around 40 percent of the entire EU budget. It is decided each year by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. To keep long-term spending under control, they work within a multi-year financial framework; the current framework expires at the end of 2013.

Under the new agreement, Europe will invest over 100 billion euros between 2014 and 2020 to help farmers meet the challenges of soil and water quality, biodiversity and climate change.

To strengthen the environmental sustainability of agriculture and enhance the efforts of farmers, the EU adopted the Commission’s proposal of spending 30 percent of direct payments for the improved use of natural resources.

The “Greening” of 30 percent of direct payments applies to all 27 EU Member States, all rural areas and all farmers. It will be linked to three environmentally-friendly farming practices: crop diversification, maintaining permanent grassland and conserving five percent, and later seven percent, of areas of ecological interest from 2018 – or measures considered to have equivalent environmental benefits.

ploughing

English farmer ploughing his field (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto.com)

This is compulsory and failure to respect the Greening requirements will result in penalties which go beyond the Greening payment – after a transition period offenders will also lose up to 125 percent of their Greening payment.

Agri-environmental measures will be stepped up to complement greening practices. These programs will have to set and meet higher environmental protection targets as a guarantee against double funding.

To avoid penalizing those that already address environmental and sustainability issues, the accord foresees a “greening equivalency” system so that environmentally beneficial practices already in place may replace these basic requirements.

Organic producers, for example, will have no additional requirements as their practices are shown to provide a clear ecological benefit.

European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Ciolos said, “This agreement will lead to far-reaching changes: making direct payments fairer and greener, strengthening the position of farmers within the food production chain and making the CAP more efficient and more transparent.”

“These decisions represent the EU’s strong response to the challenges of food safety, climate change, growth and jobs in rural areas,” said Ciolos. “The CAP will play a key part in achieving the overall objective of promoting smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.”

Farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca brought fresh foods to the Luxembourg negotiations and delivered a statement calling for a deal before the end of June. Today Copa-Cogeca said it was pleased with the agreement, though it expressed concerns about some of the details.

daffodils

Field of daffodils (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto.com)

But the largest association of environmental groups in Europe, the European Environmental Bureau, is disappointed that the agreement is not stronger.

“Not only does it fail to make the CAP greener and fairer, it even might go back on the little progress made under previous reforms,” the EEB said in a statement today. “The priority in the end of the negotiations was to strike a deal at all costs and the first in line to be sacrificed was the environment.”

“At a time when EU governments are slashing government budgets, it also leaves the policy without any justification for continuing to eat up up to 40 percent of the EU budget,” said the EEB, an umbrella group which covers more than 140 member organisations representing 15 million Europeans.

Faustine Defossez, EEB senior agriculture policy officer, said, “Today EU negotiators have agreed to ask taxpayers to keep on spending hundreds of billions for the next seven years on a policy which will continue to damage our natural resources and threaten our long term food security.”

The EEB objects that the final deal reduced the Commission’s proposed three crops in diversification to two crops and reduced the Commission’s proposal for seven percent of Ecological Focus Areas, “most probably the only meaningful element of the reform,” to five percent.

In addition, said Defossez, as many farms as possible were exempted from Greening in ways that will leave at least 35.5 percent of EU farmland exempted from Ecological Focus Areas and 46 percent exempted from meaningful crop diversification.

“Worse,” she said, “this dressed down 30 percent ‘Greening’ was then used to justify the sacrifices made to the few positive elements of this policy such as the requirement for farmers to comply with other EU legislation in order to qualify for funds (cross compliance) and meaningful minimum spending for the environment…”

Two pieces of legislation on water and pesticides were removed from the Commission’s original proposal, which Defossez says will allow farmers who break the law by polluting water and using illegal substances to continue to be subsidized.

“We are aware that some important details still have to be decided in the months to come,” said Defossez, “but at this stage no cosmetic change could hide this complete failure for people, farming and the environment.”

But Minister Coveney expressed satisfaction with the deal, saying today, “I am confident that farmers throughout the European Union will benefit from these developments, and that European citizens can be assured that resources are being spent in an efficient, equitable and sustainable manner.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.