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The 50 Shades of Green of the CAP Reform Package

With the shape of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) package agreed upon by the Parliament and EU Ministers in June 2013, the EEB, CEEweb and representatives of the Commission and Member States debated last week how to get the most out of a ‘grey’ deal for the environment.

The conference began with a somewhat fiery opening session in which EEB Policy Director Pieter de Pous debated with Pierre Bascou from DG Agriculture over the shade of green, if at all, the package is for the environment. Pieter de Pous opened by arguing that to say the CAP reform was a disappointing outcome for the environment would be an understatement. According to Pieter de Pous, an emptied out budget, exemptions, weakened measures and cross-compliance, and an equivalence mechanism have all diminished the potential of the CAP to implement environmental measures. Pierre Bascou meanwhile defended the package, which he said has multiple objectives to balance, including environmental, social and economic. He pointed out that 30% of the direct payments from Pillar I would be used to support the improvement of environmental sustainability. He outlined how direct greening payment measures would compensate farmers for the cost of implementing green measures. These measures, he argued needed to be simple but effective given the limited resources of the Commission. Greening measures include requirements for crop diversification, the maintenance of permanent grasslands and for ecological focus areas (EFAs), however, they do also allow the possibility for equivalent practices to qualify for funding.

During the second session Pillar 2 of the CAP was examined. The CAP budget has two ‘Pillars’. Pillar 1 is largely made up of direct income support for farmers, and Pillar 2 contains a budget for rural development and conservation measures. Nat Page from CEEWeb, which specialises in rural development in Central and Eastern European countries, outlined the results of a report into the special challenges in this region of Europe. It was clear that specific knowledge at a local and member state level is important to ensure the effectiveness of policies implemented. He emphasised that the best way to protect biodiversity was to work at the farm level, rather than simply using protect areas.

Session 3 contained some policy orientation indications from DG Agriculture and DG Environment. Mike Mackenzie of DG AGRI argued that the glass is full with tools available to protect the environment but that a glass is no good if you don’t drink up. He called for the policy agreed upon to be fully implemented and made the best of. He hoped in particular that people would pay attention to a new feature of CAP – that groups of farmers can now be recipients of funding, allowing greater co-operations and knowledge sharing.

For further background information on the CAP reform package, view previous Newflash articles on Agriculture or visit DG Agriculture’s 2014-2020 policy pages