Agra Europebroke the news last week that member states are demanding greater flexibility when it comes to the ‘greening’ elements of the proposals for the CAP post-2013.
It has now reported that the proposal for an alternative ‘menu’ with a range of options was said to have been warmly welcomed by a majority of states at a subsequent Special Committee on Agriculture meeting. This could mean that the European Commission’s much-vaunted plan to tie 30 per cent of direct payments to just three EU-wide ‘greening’ measures from 2014 is dead in the water.
As the influential CAP commentator Chris Horseman has argued, it could be said that by not making crystal clear the purpose of ‘greening’ the direct aid payments to farmers under Pillar 1, the EU’s decision-makers have allowed the more influential member states to grasp the nettle and shape a more politically-palatable proposal in its place.
Although the new menu proposal is almost certain to be more acceptable to member states, it is unlikely that they will allow for a more environmentally-sound policy than the original ‘greening’ measures put forward by the Commission and environmental groups such as Birdlife International have already made their feelings known, claiming it will mean 'Europe’s most environmentally harmful farmers to get away without changing anything.'
However, it is arguable that the original proposals were too inflexible and would simply create transaction costs without a favourable environmental outcome. It is not easy to devise cost effective policy instruments for agri-environmental policy that also avoid the 'additionality' problem, i.e., paying farmers for doing something they would have done anyway. Many farmers do see themselves as trustees of the land they own or rent on a long-term basis.
However in the UK the practice of taking on additional parcels of land away from the main farm to make it a commercially viable unit may not help this notion of stewardship.