Brian Gardner's Blog

The European Union’s radical post- 2003 farm income support system was designed to have a twofold purpose: the protection of farm incomes and protection of the natural environment. What many expert analysts have long suspected, that it is failing in this second objective, is now becoming abundantly clear. Put simply, it was intended that if farmers fail to protect wild life habitats then their income subsidy would be cut.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the lax operation of this so-called ‘cross-compliance’ system by member state governments means that the rural environment is not being adequately protected. A recent survey by Bird Life International indicates that a majority of member states are paying little more than lip service to cross compliance conditions, They appear only concerned with the improvement of agricultural production efficiency.

The essence of this problem is the imprecision of the measure. It is too much to expect that a mechanism designed to support the incomes of agricultural producers, the Single Farm Payment, will also prevent damage to the rural environment. BLI says that the national implementation of the essential EU Birds and Habitats Directives has not been improved to identify obligations applicable at farm level, while many existing obligations have not even been included in cross compliance rules. In most cases, standards for Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) have been translated into undemanding prescriptions, allowing common bad practice and permitting beneficiaries to derogate from requirements”.

This latest information highlights the increasingly widespread view that the current SFP based subsidy system is a blunt and not particularly efficient instrument for dealing not only with the rural income support ‘problem’ but also with the reconciliation of agricultural production with the conservation of wild life habitats and protection of the environment. It adds further weight to the view of those who believe that the post 2013 EU budget review should involve the scaling down of the SFP as an income support instrument and the concentration of non income support funds on specific social and environmental problems and regions. The individual farm approach which SFP linked cross compliance implies is irrelevant to the regional, national and Europe-wide approach that is needed to conserve wild life habitats.

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