Just because a farmer has lots of grass, doesn't mean he's 'green'
It’s time for MEPs to show they’re ready to work on farming policy, says Jenna Hegarty.
We share Conservative South West MEP Julie Girling's outrage (Dispatch Box, WMN Jan 29) at the outcome of last week's European Parliament vote and we agree entirely that "The European Parliament has significantly altered the Commission's proposals to the extent that this proposal is now a very complicated and bureaucratic "greenwash".
We also share Julie's belief that improving the environmental performance of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) (which sadly remains much needed given the continued losses in wildlife and wider issues of soil and water degradation in our countryside) is better delivered through the Policy's so-called Pillar 2, which funds things like agri-environment.
However, a wholesale shift of funding from Pillar 1 into Pillar 2 is sadly not on the cards – there is simply not the political appetite for it amongst most MEPs and Member States across the EU.
FREE Organic Lip Gloss. Treat your lips to some organic goodness...View details
Please go to www.uk.nyrorganic.com/shop/katewilson and browse my online shop for some fantastic award winning products. If you need any advise please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07717838577
Terms: Available whilst stocks last so get in quick! a randomly chosen colour will be sent with your order
Contact: 01579 550453
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
So if we're serious about improving the CAP's environmental performance, then we will have to make all bits of the CAP work harder. Pillar 2 is too small (and could become even smaller after the deal is done on the EU Budget in the next couple of weeks) to do what's needed on its own. And this means strengthening the conditions attached to Pillar 1 direct payments, including new 'greening' requirements. This process is not some new phenomenon, it's been in train for years and is something farmers and land managers have accepted as a reasonable requirement in return for continued (and significant) funding from the public purse.
However, rather than seek ways to improve the Commission's original greening proposals, the committee on which Julie sits has watered them down almost beyond recognition. Ecological Focus Areas, which would require farmers to manage a modest proportion of their farm for the environment, have been reduced from 7% of the farm area to just 3%. In parallel the committee has voted through countless exceptions and alternative ways to tick the greening box, many with little to no environmental credentials. Apparently the committee is unaware that the colour green does not automatically equal environmentally green, because they have voted that having a lot of grass on a farm is enough to meet the greening requirements, regardless of how it is managed...
Another example is the issue of paying farmers twice for the same environmental action – often referred to as double funding. In her WMN article, Julie argues in favour of it because otherwise "farmers who have done the right thing and have entered environmental schemes will face significant financial cuts... whilst farmers who have so far avoided doing a bit extra for the environment will not lose any part of their payment". But quite simply this is wrong. Those who have done nothing for the environment, and plan on carrying on doing nothing in the next CAP, are the ones who will see their payments significantly cut because they will lose their 'greening' payment – some 30% of their current Pillar 1 cheque. Those who are already in a good environmental scheme will be one step ahead because they're already managing their land in a 'green' way. How much they receive for this positive land management will inevitably need to be reduced to reflect the 'raising of the bar', but they would still be rewarded for everything above and beyond the 'bar'. What's more, by not allowing double-funding, precious Pillar 2 funds would effectively be freed up where they could be redeployed for more targeted environmental schemes.
But alas, the committee that Julie sits on voted in favour of double funding – a decision that would see public money being used wastefully and would fail to 'buy' anything extra for the environment.
This is not the way to improve the CAP's environmental performance and it's also certainly not the way to garner support for European farming. In times of austerity, people expect their money to be spent as well as possible and to deliver benefits to society as a whole. The outcome of last week's vote doesn't deliver against either of these tests. In fact, if the committee vote is representative of the European Parliament as a whole, it reveals how ill-prepared and unready they are to share decision making powers in agriculture policy – powers they have not had in the past.
The committee's vote is not the endgame and the 'plenary' vote in the European Parliament, (where all MEPs, and not just those on the agriculture committee, will meet to vote on their proposed changes to CAP) will be a vital opportunity to overturn the poor decisions taken in last week's vote. We'll be working closely with MEPs in the run up to this vote to ensure they use this round of reform as an opportunity to change the CAP for the better, and not for the worse.
Jenna Hegarty is Senior Agriculture Policy Officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds