The European Commission has proposed a package of 'greening' measures that European farmers will need to satisfy to receive direct payments made under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). While the Commission's objective of improving the environmental contribution of the CAP is commendable, the approach adopted by the Commission is unlikely to achieve that goal. In addition there is insufficient detail available about many of the measures to make an accurate assessment of their impact.
Europe has a range of environmental challenges and farming practices. We found that a single set of prescriptive rules applied across all of Europe was unlikely to deliver the desired environmental improvements. A one-size-fits all approach is not appropriate and so we advocate the Commission enabling Member States to tailor environmental measures to the local environmental and agricultural conditions. This position appears to be gaining ground across the European Union. The UK Government should continue to make the case to the Commission, other Member States and the European Parliament.
The Commission should set the high-level objectives for the CAP and provide for flexibility of approach through delegating the details to Member States while ensuring that there are sufficient safeguards to protect the competitive position of UK farmers.
The CAP is complex and burdensome. We urge the UK Government to press for greater simplification in the CAP and to ensure that the policy can be implemented in a way that provides value for money.
Payments made under the CAP should provide incentives for farmers to manage natural resources sustainably. The future CAP must help farmers to produce more while having fewer adverse impacts on our natural environment. The CAP has evolved from simply a method of supporting farmers and food productionthe future CAP must help Europe face the challenges of food security, climate change and environmental degradation.
In the UK, the Commission's crop diversification measure would have perverse consequences and will be considerably less environmentally beneficial than crop rotation. Defra should seek to remove this measure from the Regulations. Similarly the requirement to retain permanent pasture is likely to have unintended and perverse consequences. The measure would not only fail to deliver environmental benefit but also act as an incentive to remove environmentally important semi-natural grassland.
The Commission's Ecological Focus Area (EFA) proposal has the potential to be the most environmentally beneficial of the three 'greening' measures. However, the lack of definitions in the proposals makes it difficult to assess what, if any, of those benefits would actually be delivered. In the UK, the EFA measure should be properly intergrated with the Natural Environment White Paper's goal of enhancing environmental interconnectivity.
The United Kingdom's agri-environment schemes are among the best in Europe at delivering meaningful environmental benefits. The Commission's 'greening' proposals must not be allowed to diminish that benefit. The reformed CAP should be coherent with the existing agri-environment schemes. Any 'greening' requirement should take account of the environmentally beneficial activities undertaken by a farmer under an agri-environment scheme.
The CAP negotiations are ongoing and there have been reports of encouraging developments. Defra must redouble its efforts to find, engage and secure reliable allies across the European Union and have the resources in place to effectively and persuasively to put the UK's case that the CAP should support both the agricultural sector and provide environmental protection.