Friday, September 21, 2012

'Greening' remains controversial

Last week’s informal Farm Council meeting in Cyprus – the first since the summer break – reminded decision-makers that gaining consensus over the ‘greening’ requirements for direct payments is one of the biggest obstacles for CAP reform.

As Cypriot farm minister Sofoclis Aletraris admitted to Agra Europe at the meeting, while the greening of the CAP is a desire for all member states, the exact definition of what ‘greening’ means, or should mean, varies across the EU. Indeed, it's a bit like being in favour of motherhood and apple pie. No one is likely to argue for 'browning' the CAP, but the devil is in the detail.

One of the issues is the impact on profitability. The current chair of the EU Farm Council also admitted that greening will be a “tax” for farmers and that the final system must ensure that farming is still profitable to avoid people leaving the profession.

EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos insists that progress on reaching an agreement is being made and that the European Commission plan to link 30 per cent of farm income support to three EU-wide environmental requirements is now better understood by governments and farmers than it was before. That doesn't mean they like it any more and it has been my view that is a rather blunt instrument as a means of achieving environmental objectives.

Ciolos again defended the plan at the meeting and reiterated the EU executive’s offer of ‘equivalence’ − whereby a farmer involved in Pillar Two agri-environment/climate or national certification schemes would qualify for one or more greening requirements − to satisfy the many critics.

Greening is not a measure against increased production but rather a way of maintaining sustainable production in the medium-term by protecting water, soil and biodiversity, he argued.

There is an underlying tension here between economic and environmental sustainability. Reconciling them is not easy and arguably needs a more fine grained approach with more sophisticated policy instruments.

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