Janez Potočnik says EU farming subsidies must drive greener practices for policy to remain legitimate
By Will Nichols 16 Mar 2011 Click here for full article.
Reforming the EU’s controversial Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will only prove successful if the revamped scheme plays a significant role in helping the EU meet its environmental and climate targets.
That is the view of European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, who used an address in Brussels yesterday to declare that any restructuring of the scheme must link subsidies for farmers to their environmental performance, while also promoting sustainable rural development and simplifying the current system.
“It is essential that the future CAP contributes the public goods we need to meet the environmental and climate challenges we are facing today,” Potočnik told the Future of Agriculture conference. “I do not see how the amount of public funds spent on agriculture can be legitimised unless the future CAP makes a significant contribution to reaching the EU’s environmental and climate targets.”
The CAP has long been a contentious issue for the EU, which spent around €55bn (47bn) on the programme in 2009. Critics have argued CAP has a weak environmental record, distorts the global economy, and harms trade interests while doing little to support the poorest farmers.
The economic crisis has increased the likelihood that the CAP will be altered in 2013, when the new long-term EU budget comes into force.
Potočnik said he was already in talks with EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş on how to include measures in the reformed CAP that would help EU member states meet their commitments to halting biodiversity loss and halting the degradation of ecosystems in Europe by 2020.
Proposals include linking the direct payments to farmers that make up the so-called ‘first pillar’ of the CAP to their ability to maintain permanent pasture, set aside land, or embrace crop diversification.
“We must not only sanction farmers who do not respect environmental rules, we must also reward those who do provide environmental public goods, because the market does not reward them for that,” Potočnik said.
Such a policy would not only help stop biodiversity loss and soil degradation, but also create “green corridors” that would help tackle climate change by reinforcing the resilience of Europe’s ecosystems, he added.
Potočnik also suggested rewarding farmers for better management of water and argued that CAP rural development money should remain available to help forests address biodiversity, climate and energy issues.
“If there is a CAP in the future, it must be green,” Potočnik concluded. “I do not see how the amount of public funds spent on agriculture can be legitimised unless the European taxpayer knows that the future CAP will make a significant contribution to reaching the EU’s environmental and climate targets and will provide environmental services such as biodiversity protection, flood prevention, fire prevention and so on.”
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