EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has rebuffed claims by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that the time has come for a new common agricultural policy.
“The CAP needs a far greater environmental element to retain its current budget,” said RSPB head of agriculture Gareth Morgan. “That means scrapping subsidies and instead, rewarding farmers for measures to help tackle climate change, reverse wildlife declines and improve water quality.”
But speaking at the report’s official launch in Brussels, Mrs Fischer Boel said much of what the bird organisations were demanding was already being delivered by the current CAP.
“You say you want a new CAP,” she said. “I have just spoken at a conference on rural development. Many of the people there would say that today’s CAP has a huge number of “new” elements compared with a few years ago.”
For example, under the first pillar, payments to farmers were decoupled from production, while cross-compliance provided environmental guarantees.
And, while the second pillar needed more money, the €88bn allocated to 2013 was already delivering increased bird populations, reduced soil erosion and restored hedgerows.
Clearly there was still more to do. “But when I travel around Europe, I see one case after another in which the CAP has helped farming to shape our natural world in a positive way,” Mrs Fischer Boel said.
Next year’s “health check” of the CAP would provide scope for further refinement, including finding ways of doing more environmental work to replace the good that set-aside had done.
Raising the rate of compulsory modulation would also generate more funds for environmental projects, though the 20% that Birdlife had suggested was a political non-starter.