Silence please: The second act has just started on greening

Latest evidence shows that negotiations on greening have moved to their second stage. Since 12 October 2011, numerous critiques have arisen regarding the greening proposals criticised as ineffective and overly-restrictive for farmers. As a response to these, the European Commission proposed making some farming practices ‘equivalent’ to the three greening measures last Tuesday. Practically, this means that farmers who are members of certain agri-environment and certified national schemes could be exempt from at least one greening measure. Moreover, the definition of ‘permanent grassland’ are proposed to be widened to include other grazing areas and farms of less than ten hectares could be exempted from certain requirements like diversifying crops.

This new proposal raises, as always, several new questions. First, if participation of agri-environment programmes would qualify for the greening payment, farmers might result in a double funding as the same activity would be supported from both pillars. Second, this suggests that agri-environment programmes provide us the same public goods as the new requirements would do and if so, I wonder who and on what basis would evaluate this argument. Third, different member states have different agri-environment schemes so it is pretty sure that the new proposals create an unequal system among farmers throughout Europe which is totally against the stated ‘equivalence in greening measures’ principle. Fourth, these proposals would combine the logic of encouragement (agri-environmental programmes) and that of punishment (mandatory greening requirements), the outcome of which is unclear.

However, most stakeholders (mainly farmer’s unions, of course) are happy with these changes and propose further steps to cancel the greening requirements on the basis of the one-size-fits-all approach.  Such further steps would include the wider ‘menu’ option, mainly proposed by the UK, but now it seems to have lost ground on the basis that it would be hard to implement. Anyway, the EP’s COMAGRI will vote on the proposal in the middle of June, followed by a plenary vote in July, while the position of the Council is expected in the autumn.

On the whole, everything is like it has been constructed. After testing the initial reactions to the official proposals, the EC now washes her hands and says that she wanted tougher reform but the majority is against this. The Commission is playing her role well in the European theatre and nothing important seems to change (in this regard) in the next programming period.

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