Birdlife : CAP reform is dead

Ariel Brunner is Head of EU Policy at Birdlife Europe

Earlier this month saw the European Council give the final rubberstamp to the reform of the CAP. It is now time to assess what has happened to Commissioner Ciolos’ promise of a green, fair and simple policy. Unfortunately any remotely honest evaluation of the new CAP must acknowledge that the original promise has been betrayed by Member States and the European Parliament.
In terms of the use of public money, we see a CAP where targeted Pillar 2 measures have been disproportionally reduced, while the bulk of the budget remains in completely untargeted, entitlement based payments that are not linked to any real policy objective. Cross compliance has been hollowed out by dropping much needed obligations and weakening controls and sanctions, making it even easier for law breakers and polluters to enjoy public subsidies – you can even be caught killing a bird of prey red-handed and still receive your full payment, even though the Birds Directive still forms part of the cross compliance system.
The much vaunted 30% greening of pillar 1 is mostly a sham. 47% of farmland and 89% of farmers will be completely exempted from the only biodiversity measure (requiring farmers to leave some space for nature on their farm) and those who are not exempt are being offered a smorgasbord of loopholes. Crop diversification and grassland protection have been similarly watered down. Adding insult to injury, Member States will be allowed to siphon away money currently dedicated to targeted measures, including environmental ones, to beef up “old style subsidies”. The combined imagination of Comagri MEPs and agriculture ministers has been allowed to run wild, sprouting a jungle of complex and impenetrable new rules that are designed to kill any environmental delivery behind a thick bureaucratic smokescreen.
The end result is a policy that backtracks on the 2003 Fischler reform. It is even more complex and unintelligible than the current one, it keeps shortcoming both citizens and sustainable farmers, keeps rewarding polluters and lawbreakers and does nothing to address the urgent plight of farmland biodiversity. It also miserably fails to redirect European farming toward an agro-ecological path that is vital for insuring our long term food security and the health of the farm sector itself.
The crisis in our countryside is not going away. BirdLife has long championed support for the farming sector based on the “public money for public goods” principle, but we now must face a harsh new reality of a broken system, defended by a narrow group of all-powerful vested interests that have no intention of changing. Any European decision maker who cares about our collective future must now start asking hard questions about the rationale for showering money on the least sustainable parts of the farming sector and giving them blanket exemptions from most environmental legislation that applies to other sectors.
By the end of the year, Member States will have decided how much funding to transfer between the CAP’s two pillars. Those who make the right decision to boost Pillar 2’s devastated budget will be applauded by the eNGO community and by citizens who want their investment in farming spent well, but these good news stories will be few and far between, and will only be making the best of a very bad deal.
Photo credit: Flickr by Spesialsnorre, used under Creative Commons licence

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