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Controversial new payment scheme for Europe’s farming future

Banner for the CAP Reform in Brussels, far removed from the farms it will affect.

The introduction of greening payments to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a new and controversial proposal set to change farming in Europe, but only if it can survive the political process.

By Kate Elphinstone

30 euro cents a day is given by every European citizen to their farmers to ensure food is on their table each night. That money is now under debate, as the reform of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) begins.

A new proposal introduced in October dictates that taxpayers money will be used to fund a new ‘green’ level of payment, ambitiously aimed at making every single farmer in the EU produce in an environmentally friendly manner.

It is proving to be the most controversial addition to the large reform process, with many member states disputing the large allocation of 30% of the funds to a greening payment.

“It is under heavy attack at this stage both in the Council and, unfortunately, in the European Parliament as well,” said Mr Bas Eickhout, member of the Greens and the European Free Alliance and also a Member of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

Greener Farming for a Greener Future

The payments are a completely new addition to the CAP. Its aim is to ensure that EU farmers will be supported when changing to climate focused farming practices.

According to a report by the European Commission in October, the payments are considered absolutely necessary to support farmers in adopting and maintaining environmental practices. As it stands, farmers cannot rely on market prices to support this change.

“Our whole concept is that all farmers should participate in the greening scheme, because if every farmer does a little bit more then we will have a significant effect en masse,” said spokesperson to the agricultural commissioner Roger Waite.

An incentive for reform is to meet the climate targets of the Europe 2020 agenda, aimed at increasing sustainable practices. Farmers will need to be supported in changing their practices to meet environmental standards otherwise it is expected that the climate targets will not be met.

“Our objectives for the CAP are environmental. We think we have a complete set of renewed measures and we count on the ballot and the council to keep them on board so we have enough funding,” said Myrium Driessen, policy co-ordinator on climate change for agricultural aspects of EU policies at at public conference regarding the proposal.

Myriam Driessen speaks at a public conference on the 10th November organised by the Greens/EFA to bing together experts to debate the Greening proposals of the CAP

Working together

However, achieving a greener farming future depends on agreement between agricultural ministers and MEPs. These reforms are the largest co-decision ever undertaken between the parliament and the commission.

At a public debate on the 8th November, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek explained that MEPs and agriculture ministers “will have to find solutions that strike a balance among all farmers in 27 Member States, big and small farms, central and remote areas”.

Farming practices are not a cohesive endeavor among all the member states, who are divided by their national interests. Non-agreement among member states will prove the greatest threat to the proposal. While the 30% stipend will not be removed completely from the reforms, it could be drastically lowered.

Debate on the need to ‘Green’

Many MEPs and ministers voiced concern over the 30% figure set for greening payments at a public debate on the 8th of November, indicating a belief that it is unfeasible. Current world problems are clouding support for the greening proposal.

“Environmental measures do matter, but 30% is too much”, noted Bulgarian Minister Miroslav Naydenov at the debate.

Food security and competiveness in the global market are being used by MEPs to dispute the large allocation of funds to green farming.  Valentin Zahrnt from the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) disputes concerns of food security in the EU.

“In any case, short-term food security is not endangered in the EU. If food security should be of concern to policymakers, the focus should be on 2050 and beyond,” said Mr Zahrnt in a report from 2011.

Mr Bas Eickhout hopes that the ongoing debates will not lose sight of why the CAP needs to be reformed.

“Why we are doing this is becoming very, very important. Besides the Euro crisis, we are having a lot of crisis on climate and resource uses and I think addressing those with the public budget of the EU is very crucial,” said Mr Eckhart.

Support Essential to Success

The introduction of greening payments requires a re-organising of direct payments, causing concern that the already complicated CAP will increase in difficulty.

“Practical, easy to implement measures will work best for farmers and for European authorities. To encourage the next generation of farmers; there should not be any administrative burden linked to the greening measures or high extra costs,” President Joris Baecke from the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) said.

Support for the farmers to implement the changes is another important element for success.

“If farmers simply go through a pro formo take up of measures the outcomes are worse for biodiversity and climate. We welcome a farm advisory system,” said David Baldock Executive Director Institute for the European Environmental Policy (IEEP).

A Farmer's Market in Nice, France. The aim is for every farmer in the EU to farm sustainably.

The Need for Knowledge

“People still need to learn more. There is still a lot of mis-understanding. The benefits will only occur if this is well implemented,” said Faustine Defozzez, policy officer of agriculture and bioenergy at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

The three main areas of environmental focus for farmers to be eligible for payments are crop diversification, permanent grasslands and ‘ecological focus’ areas.

Mrs Myriam Driessen, policy co-ordinator for agricultural aspects of EU policies, can see areas where the policy could fall short, unless enough support is given.

“We have to feed more and more people and all our studies are showing that prices of cereals will increase. That’s good for crop producers. (So) Keeping grasslands and not producing arable crops when the prices of arable crops are growing, farmers have an interest to plough up (fields) for their income.”

Effective Implementation

In order for it to be effective all of the member states have to agree on the measures and implement them accordingly. Environmental groups fear that unless it is strictly implemented, the money will be wasted.

“We have to have incentives which are balanced by suitable safeguards. It will be important for the commission to scrutinize member states. We can’t deliver climate sensitive agriculture without some finely tuned implements,” said David Baldock.

With 47% of the EUs budget dedicated to the CAP, the use of taxpayers money is under enormous scrutiny.

“If there is not serious greening, there is no justification for the money to be given,” said Faustine Defozzez.

“There are clear benefits for the climate but they have to be seen in a package mandatory for all the farmers in the EU.”

The voice of the farmers and stakeholders will be heard at debates scheduled for December.