Following a Swedish proposal and widespread support in the Agriculture Council, the Commission announced the intention to set the level of compulsory set aside at 0% for the 2008 harvest. This is bad news for Europeâ€™s wildlife and suggests a disappointing level of commitment to environmental sustainability on the side of the EU and its Member States. It also seems like a textbook case of ill conceived decision making.
There is no dispute on the fact that set aside was not introduced for environmental purpose, and that with decoupling of subsidies and high commodity prices, its supply control objective is no longer justified. However, a mounting body of evidence is suggesting that set aside has brought significant incidental benefits to the EUâ€™s beleaguered biodiversity by ensuring a vital â€œbreathing spaceâ€ for species driven off most of our farmland through relentless agricultural intensification.
If the EU is serious about its commitment to stop the decline in biodiversity, current set aside should be substituted with a purpose tailored environmental tool, rather than scrapped. The Commissioner has publicly acknowledged the issue and promised to look into it as part of next yearâ€™s â€œhealth checkâ€, but the recent announcement suggests that we may be causing the damage first, thinking about the problem later. Birds attempting to nest next spring are likely to face entire regions with hardly any suitable habitat. The consequences will be seen before the long term solution is even suggested.
The sad history of the CAP’s environmental impacts would suggest more caution and analysis. Unfortunately, it seems that the wish to please parts of the farming lobby is much stronger than the wish to ensure the survival of threatened species. For the moment the recipe seems to be â€œact now, think laterâ€