Brian Gardner's Blog

While most of the major items in the European Commission’s CAP reform package which the European Parliament has amended and now agreed will do nothing to improve the focus of Europe’s farm policy, there is one item which it approved which contains the germ of eventual radical reform. It is the proposal to begin capping payments to individual farm business at €150,000 a year. Were it to be approved by Council it would achieve two things: it would mark the beginning of the end for the policy of subsidising farm businesses which, on a rising world market, do not need subsidising and it would provide substantial savings which could be re-directed into specific rural environmental measures.
The rest of the Parliament’s CAP reform agreement is irrelevant twiddling. It is in fact no reform at all, but merely a recipe for perpetuation of the current policy under some vague green camouflage – with added bureaucracy. There are some outstanding examples of irrelevancy. Take for example the proposal that member states should spend 25 per cent of their 2014-2020 CAP rural development funds on environment and climate measures. Unlike the €45 billion a year that will still be spent on irrelevant farm income payments, this works out to peanuts. Twenty five per cent of €12 billion divided by 27 (member states) would just about pay for a few extra coppices or bumble bee havens.
It would not be so bad if the parliamentarians were not so pleased with their paltry efforts -epitomised by ComAgi’s Mairead McGuinness :“We are deepening the environmental delivery and linking 30 per cent of payments to environmental measures is a major re-orientation … ,“She claimed. “On direct payments we have attempted to target greening measures on where they will have a real effect. We decided on a more realistic introduction of ecological focus areas to reflect farming realities.” Hardly. There are so many get-out clauses and leeways for national interpretation that there is little more pressure on landholders for environmental compliance than in the present policy.
A real reform would convert the direct income scheme into a proper social income and structural policy to maintain rural communities, while paying all landholders to provide specific environmental services. An important first step would be capping the direct income payment excess to provide the money for this more radical policy. <14/03/2013>


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