3 November 1995

Cross-compliance finds little backing within EU

By Peter Bullen

Political correspondent

THERE is relatively little political backing in the EU for linking farm support payments to environmental objectives, says a joint UK/Netherlands report.

But it acknowledges that Britain is in the forefront of countries practising "cross-compliance" or linking subsidy payments closer to environmental management. The report, compiled by the Department of the Environment and the Dutch agriculture ministry, was heralded in the governments rural White Paper two weeks ago.

Growing debate

Although the political climate for introducing cross-compliance into the CAP has not been particularly warm in recent years it may be changing, the report says and there are signs of a growing debate on the subject.

Some steps towards cross-compliance have been taken – notably linking area payments on set-aside and livestock headage payments to environmental conditions.

These have been modest steps and member states response has been limited, it says. Most EU member states have failed to respond to the option of introducing conditions on beef and sheep headage payments.

A notable exception is the UK. It describes how the UK government has "greened" the hill livestock compensatory allowances since l992 to reduce over-grazing of moorland. Up to April 1994 this resulted in more than 290 hill farmers being asked to cut stocking densities. About 15 of those chose to forgo HLCA payments rather than cut numbers, which resulted in MAFF being unable to continue to monitor the areas concerned, as they were no longer subject to the provisions of the HLCA scheme. "This is an unfortunate outcome of the application of the overgrazing clause," the report adds.

Farmers in England and Wales have been suspicious of the new controls on over-grazing, it says. Although many accept the need to control severe overstocking, there is reluctance to accept the way in which excess stocking densities have been defined in some areas.

Particularly strong resistance and demands for compensation have been made by producers in Crosby Ravensworth Fell, in Cumbria.

Application inhibited

The report concludes that, as the scale of farm support payments in the EU is greater than in the US, cross-compliance should be more attractive as a policy instrument. But several factors inhibit its application, including the current reluctance of most governments to impose new conditions on farmers in the wake of the MacSharry reforms.

In theory cross-compliance is an attractive means of preventing environmental damage directly associated with farm subsidies, the report continues. It is, therefore, a step towards policy integration required by the Maastricht Treaty as well as the implementation of the "polluter pays principle."

With direct payments now forming a significant element in the CAP, cross-compliance is more feasible to apply in practice and subsidies are more transparent. Direct payments also give an opportunity to obtain environmental benefits without increasing public expenditure other than for administration costs.

Limiting factors

Among the factors limiting cross-compliance, the report lists avoiding measures which entail significant costs to farmers and selecting measures which are relatively simple to administer and monitor.

It warns of the danger of creating serious discrepancies in the conditions imposed on farmers in different countries if rules are set at national and not community level. It suggests setting up a new EU committee to monitor and authorise national conditions as a safeguard.

"If environmental conditions are laid down on a community scale they should be simple to monitor and enforce. Prescriptions which involve limits on the use of fertilisers, pesticides, etc, often may not meet these criteria," it says. "Conversely, an obligation to maintain a particular environmental feature or introduce a new landscape element such as field margins can be monitored more easily." &#42