Subsidy payments to farmers could soon include compulsory environmental measures such as crop rotation and set-aside under proposals made by the EU Commission.
The European Union pays out £50 billion every year in subsidy payments to farmers - 40 per cent of the entire EU budget - the majority of which is given out as direct payments to farmers but some is given for meeting specific environmental targets, such as maintaining woodlands.
Officials are now proposing including a compulsory environmental payment as part of all the direct payments made to farmers. It says this would go beyond existing very basic requirements and could include green cover, crop rotation, permanent pasture or ecological set-aside.
Some have argued for an end to the EU's subsidy payment scheme but the EU Commission argues that abolishing farm subsidies altogether would led to more intensive farming practices, a concentration of production in favourable areas and an abandonment of other less favourable areas, like uplands.
However, it acknowledged that current European farming methods were leading to soil depletion, water shortages, pollution and a loss of wildlife habitats and biodiversity. It said future CAP must be 'greener' and contribute to the 'sustainable management of natural resources and climate action'.
'The CAP is not just for farmers, it is for all EU citizens – as consumers and taxpayers. It is therefore important that we design our policy in a way which is more understandable to the general public and which makes clear the public benefits that farmers provide to society as a whole. European agriculture needs to be not only economically competitive, but also environmentally competitive,' said EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş;.
The EU Commission proposals will now be debated by member states over the next six months, with a final agreement on any reforms to the existing CAP agreement expected before the end of 2011.
A public debate undertaken by the EU Commission earlier this year saw a large number of respondents calling for farmers to be paid to protect biodiversity and maintain the countryside. There was also a strongly held view that 'industrial' agriculture should have little place in the CAP.
Environmental groups said they worried the 'green rhetoric' outlined in the proposals would be diluted down by member states such as France and Germany over the next few months.
'This could lead to a much greener CAP system but I am reluctant to give a verdict as it could go down different routes. We could be lulled into a false sense of security,' said RSPB head of countryside policy Gareth Morgan. 'You could have a greener CAP or a continuation of direct payments with no real environmental benefits.'
EU Commission's CAP proposals
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