Part of the EU Strategy looking to 2020 is intent on combatting climate and resource challenges that the EU will face, among otherthings. EU 2020 puts forward three mutually reinforcing priorities:
- Smart growth: developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation.
- Sustainable growth: promoting a more resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy.
- Inclusive growth: fostering a high-employment economy delivering social and territorial cohesion.
Among many of the reforms that have been introduced in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a new emphasis will be placed in ‘greening’ the mechanisms within CAP beginning in 2014. The policy makers are trying to strengthen the environmental sustainability of agriculture and enhance the efforts of farmers in achieving said goal. In order to do so, one of the main reforms to the CAP looking to 2020 is the ‘greening’ of direct payments to farmers, among other instruments such as enhanced cross-compliance for climate change, a redesigned rural development policy, and an increase in the scope of the Farm Advisory System.
Under the new agreement, the EU’s 28 governments must make 30% of the direct payments contingent upon meeting certain environmental criteria, although member states have leeway to decide when to apply sanctions, a change from the Commission’s proposal that called for EU-wide performance standards. The environmental criteria include:
- maintaining permanent grassland; and
- crop diversification (a farmer must cultivate at least 2 crops when his arable land exceeds 10 hectares and at least 3 crops when his arable land exceeds 30 hectares. The main crop may cover at most 75% of arable land, and the two main crops at most 95% of the arable area);
- maintaining an “ecological focus area” (EFA) of at least 5% of the arable area of the holding for farms with an area larger than 15 hectares (excluding permanent grassland) – i.e. field margins, hedges, trees, fallow land, landscape features, biotopes, buffer strips, afforested area. This figure will rise to 7% after a Commission report in 2017 and a legislative proposal.
The proposal aims to bring a basic level of environmental management to large swaths of farmland across Europe. Recently the EU Comissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolos, said that he was happy with the adjustment of payments, in that, “The payments are now more closely linked with good agricultural practice and I expect that these measures will be improved upon even further in the future… Greening is not just about keeping consumers happy but also improving the competitiveness of farmers. For example, biodiversity helps reduce pest burdens on crops, which in turn will benefit farmers.”
But one must question the true effectiveness of such policy implementation. Policy agreements differ from initial proposals, and many critics say that broad exemptions were made along the way in policy literature that discount the effectiveness of the greening measures initially proposed by the commission. The softening of policy measures includes an exemption for farms under 15 hectares from new requirements to create EFAs, land that is to be set aside to promote biodiversity and help absorb farm runoff. Opponents say this rule would exempt one-third of all farmland and 89% of farmers from the rules. There is also an exemption for farms under 10 hectares from new crop diversification rules that are aimed at improving soil quality, which is roughly one-third of EU farms. At last, another exemption was put in place that exempts farmers from complying with some EU environmental and water pollution laws, which really was a blow to opponents as they failed to bring agriculture up to par with other industries. In the end, Trees Robijns, agricultural policy officer at BirdLife Europe, said, “This is a major blow to those who championed a more sustainable, forward-thinking policy – one which would deliver for people and the environment as well as protecting the long-term interests of farming.”
What’s interesting here is the battle between two committees within EU Parliament, the environmental and agricultural committees. In debating issues that were dear to both, the agriculture ministers seemed to get away with more policy reform in their favor, or rather lack of policy reform. Environmentalists feel that the policies have been ‘watered down’ extensively and do not effectively meet the standards necessary in combatting environmental degradation by the agricultural sector. Nonetheless, one must look at the aims of individual committees within Parliament and their interpretation of EU 2020 goals, on one hand making European agriculture as competitive as possible in a global market, and on the other the will to protect the environment and contest the potential harmful effects of climate change on agriculture. Only time will tell if the measures taken in the reform will make a significant difference in sustainable growth of Europe toward 2020.