German call for reform of CAP payments

The German Council for Sustainable Development has just published a report highlighting the environmental damage caused by intensive agriculture and calling for a reform of the CAP direct payments system. It proposes a three-fold structure of payments: an environmental basic payment, a series of targeted agri-environmental payments for farmers who accept higher obligations, and a series of payments for high nature-value areas where the continuation of agricultural production is desirable but threatened on economic grounds.

For the environmental basic payment, it suggests that eligibility would be conditional on farmers turning over at least 10% of their area to environmentally-friendly husbandry with a view to maintaining a high level of biodiversity in the agricultural landscape throughout the EU.

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ELO and BirdLife fire the starting gun

Nothing tells you that a big political debate is hotting up like the emergence of new alliances of odd bedfellows. Yesterday saw a major joint intervention from two of Europe’s biggest, most authoritative and well-connected players in EU agriculture policy.

Birdlife International is a global partnership of conservation organisations. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, its member in the UK, boasts well over a million members. The European Landowners Organization is a federation of farmer and landowner associations. Both Birdlife and ELO have members and affiliates in each of the EU’s 27 member states.

They have come together in support of new ‘joint position’ for the future of the CAP.

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Ciolos confirmation hearing poor reflection on the Parliament

It is now over a week since the confirmation hearing of Commissioner-designate for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Ciolos before the European Parliament, but it was only this weekend that I had the opportunity to listen to the EP’s video of the hearing itself. Commentary elsewhere on Mr Ciolos’ performance has been rather negative (my colleague Jack Thurston described it as a lack-lustre performance both in style and substance) and I would not disagree with this assessment – his responses on co-financing and on the legitimacy of equal per hectare payments across all EU Member States were just two examples of woolly and obfuscatory replies.

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What does co-decision have in store?

When the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009, one of the big winners was the European Parliament which gained equal status with the Council of Ministers in most EU decision-making, including for the first time agricultural policy-making (although with some ambiguity about its role in setting prices and aid levels to which Wyn Grant has drawn attention). There is considerable interest in whether these new powers will be used to promote or block CAP reform. The pessimistic view is that the EP will become the focus of intense sectoral lobbying which will be used to block reform.

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Does France really want to suspend agri-environmental measures?

The president of the main farmers’ union, the Fedération Nationale des Syndicats d’Exploitants Agricoles (FNSEA) Jean Michel Le Metayer called for “a pause in agri-environmental measures” and the suspension of new measures. For French speaking readers, the (short) video is here.

The Ministry of agriculture seems sympathetic with this position, even though Nicolas Sarkozy has recently positioned himself as greener than his predecessors, with initiatives under a framework law called the “Grenelle of the environment” and a carbon tax (it turns out that farmers should be exempted from paying this tax, eventually). The French minister Bruno Le Maire apparently said a few days after that, indeed, a revision of the agri-environmental measures (AEM) was necessary and that it should start with an inventory of the provisions adopted throughout the Union according to the newspaper Le Figaro.

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Roger Waite the new voice of DG Agri

Roger Waite, editor of Agra Facts and frequent podcast guest on this blog, has accepted the job of spokesperson for Agriculture Commissioner-designate Dacian Ciolos. It’s sometimes said that you can count the number of people who truly understand the Common Agricultural Policy on the fingers of one hand. Roger is certainly among that select few. He’s been reporting on agriculture policy in Brussels for the past 17 years and certainly knows his way around. He speaks fluent French (and German?) and has been said to possess a ‘silver tongue’. He steps into the larger-than-average shoes of Michael Mann, another poacher-turned-gamekeeper who gave up his job as the Financial Times Brussels correspondent to speak for Ciolos’s predecessor Mariann Fischer Boel.

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BBC Documentary: A Farm for the Future

A Farm For the Future is a documentary that aired on the BBC last year. It explains just how oil-dependent our agriculture is: every calorie of food produced in the western world requires ten calories of fossil fuel energy. The film looks at the challenge of dwindling oil supplies and tries to find out what kind of farming – and food – might we be expected to see in a post-peak oil world. The answer? Permaculture and more nuts.

The film is available on Youtube in five parts.

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25 Questions for Dacian Ciolos

Agriculture Commissioner designate Dacian Ciolos will appear in a confirmation hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels this Friday. Here is a list of 25 questions that MEPs should put the man who – subject to their approval – will set the agenda for European food and farming policy over the next five years.

The hearing will be webcast live, between 9am and noon, Brussels time.

The basics

1. Should maximising food production in Europe be a central objective of the CAP?

2. How would you respond to those who say it is hard to make the case for the CAP as a policy to support farm incomes when there are six and seven figure subsidies being paid every year to the likes of the Queen of England and Prince Albert of Monaco?

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