European farm ministers have praised progress on CAP reform, while critics argue that little has been achieved other than the watering down of proposals that would force farmers to implement environmental measures in return for payments.
Ministers at a farm council meeting in Luxembourg this week broadly praised progress made during Denmark’s EU presidency over the past six months. Danish farm minister Mette Gjerskov insisted it had been a “productive presidency – one with efficiency and greening at its core”.
The baton now passes to Cyprus, which assumes the EU presidency for the remainder of 2012. It comes at a time of mounting pressure from environmental groups who claim not enough is being done to make farm subsidies dependent on greening.
UK farm minister Jim Paice has called on the council to “explore wider greening options” – and develop more flexible alternatives to the three measures – maintaining grassland, establishing of ecological focus areas and growing three arable crops – originally proposed by the commission.
European farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos appears increasingly willing the consider the idea that farmers should be allowed to work together to form “green corridors” that will meet the 7% ecological focus area requirement.
But conservationists fear that the greening proposals are in danger of falling short of their aims. “They are watering down proposals that weren’t ambitious enough in the first place,” said Jenna Hegarty, senior agriculture policy officer at the RSPB.
Mr Paice also reiterated his believe that countries should be obliged to spend a proportion of their rural development money on the environment. “Some member states clearly don’t want a minimum [spend] on the environment and I am afraid I think that is because they don’t want to do it,” he said.
Most European farm ministers favour voluntary proposals for 25% of rural development money to be spent on climate change mitigation, adaptation and land management. But Mr Paice said he favoured earmarking an obligatory 25% for environmentally-friendly farming practices.
In England, some 80% of rural development money is currently spent on environmental measures. A 25% minimum threshold across Europe would encourage other countries to give environment-friendly farming the attention it deserved, suggested Mr Paice.
Read more on our CAP reform page.