Alternative CAP reform plan gathers momentum

European farm ministers will discuss the thorny issue of “greening” the Common Agricultural Policy when they meet in Brussels next week.

A growing number of member states believes European Commission proposals to make 30% of direct payments dependent on environmental measures are a step too far. Instead, they want individual countries to have more flexibility in the way “greening” is implemented.

Plans by farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos for the mandatory greening of direct payments are likely to be discussed again at a farm council meeting on 14-15 May in Brussels. But support for a set of alternative proposals is gathering momentum among northern European member states.

DEFRA officials have been working with other countries – including Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands – on proposals that would give member states more say in the way agri-environment measures are implemented under a reformed CAP.

They include plans that would allow individual member states to select their own “greening” measures from a list of nine EU-wide options. The proposals would also recognise the contribution made by farmers already in environmental schemes.

Farm leaders have cautiously welcomed the ideas. Maeve Whyte, director of the NFU office in Brussels, said the union was pleased an alternative approach was being considered. But it was difficult to comment further until specific proposals were formalised, she added.

“Having said that, we have been clear since reform discussions began that we want a CAP that is simple to operate, common to all member states and drives competitive and productive agriculture throughout Europe.

“It is also essential that our members are recognised for delivering environmental benefits through agri-environmental operations. As Commissioner Cioloş stated at our conference in February – those farmers leading on environmental measures should not be penalised.”

Harry Cotterell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said he too was pleased that a serious debate had been opened over mandatory greening. Recognition that high quality agri-environment schemes brought benefits was particularly welcome, he said.

“The CLA has been arguing for these to be recognised as such – in addition to organic farming –  for many months now. However, we are concerned about certain aspects of the group’s proposals, such as the consideration given to deliver mandatory greening through cross-compliance.”

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