Time moves slowly in CAP land. This time last year I was writing a blog about the options for reform proposals for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Twelve months on, we now have the actual proposals! The EU has gone for the option of greening the existing system; slight changes but definitely not a radical reform.
What do we really want the CAP to do? Given that it is still the largest part of the EU budget, covers the largest land-use within Europe, and has been the subject of acrimonious discussions for as long as we have been members of the EU – surely we should all know by now what we think this behemoth should be achieving. But the sheer size and complexity of the CAP makes many despair and the latest proposals, with over 1,000 pages of ‘Euro speak’ to wade through, have not necessarily clarified the issue.
In times of economic uncertainty prioritising the environment can be challenging, but the environment is not a luxury affordable only in times of plenty. These latest proposals seem only to be tinkering at the edges of change – they still contain major contradictions in the way they address environmental challenges and gives mixed messages to both farmers and the public.
There are still major problems with the way farming is carried out across Europe, with resulting environmental damage: soils are depleted and degraded, water over-extracted and polluted and wildlife struggles to survive across landscapes that have lost many of the features that provide character and distinctiveness. These challenges are not insurmountable and many farmers have demonstrated that farming productively and profitably can go hand in hand with environmental protection and good animal welfare.
Only 25% of the CAP budget goes to rural development; targeted schemes to support wildlife or stop soil erosion, woodland grant schemes for new planting or management of the existing woodland, training or marketing support to support rural communities. A more equitable balance between the two parts of the CAP would be at least a start and a recognition that payment should be for delivery of public benefits in terms of biodiversity, water quality etc.
Wildlife and Countryside Link – an umbrella body for environmental NGOs in the UK which has been campaigning on CAP and its impacts for many years – has just produced its own version of ideas for reform of the CAP with the Woodland Trust contributing to the woodland section.
This reform is supposed to cover agriculture between 2014 and 2020 but is already 6 months behind schedule. There’s still a long way to go yet before anything actually becomes law. In fact there is an expectation that the rules will not be in place by the start of 2014. The proposals have to be discussed by the European parliament and an agreement reached between the parliament and the European agricultural ministers, so there are still loads of opportunities for things to wrong (as well as right!). As I said at the beginning, times moves slowly in CAP land…
Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer