EU Parliament vote falls short of real CAP reform, says BirdWatch Ireland

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From a BirdWatch Ireland press release – Strasburg, 13 March 2013

Today, for the first time ever, all Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted on the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The outcome is characterized by confusion, incoherence and a fundamental lack of support for more sustainable farming. According to Anja Murray, Policy Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, “While some of the worst ‘greenwashing’ approaches drafted by the agricultural council in January have been rejected by parliament, the reformed CAP is still looking as though it will deliver little for sustainable farming, rural communities and the environment.” Citizens’ demands that the public money spent on CAP – almost 40% of the EU budget – do not support unsustainable farm practices, are now unlikely to be met.

The list of negative elements is long:

1. The European Parliament today watered down each and every one of the original greening elements associates with direct payments – including managing a percentage of their farm for environmental benefit. On top of that they made greening de facto voluntary.

2. On cross compliance, MEPs rejected critically important elements of existing law, such as the Water Framework Directive and elements of the Birds and Habitats Directives. They also refused to offer much needed protection for wetlands and carbon rich soils, one of the few elements that would have made the CAP contribute to climate action.

3. MEPs continually refuse to support the most valuable and vulnerable farming systems in Europe. These High Nature Value farming systems face a harsh choice between abandonment and intensification, and the Parliament has missed an opportunity to provide much needed protection.

Trees Robijns, BirdLife Europe Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer, stated, “The Parliament’s approach today was really two steps back and one step forward. After the Agriculture Committee tore apart the European Commission’s original proposal on greening, voted in favour of illegal double funding, butchered cross compliance and denied essential support to some of our most precious farming systems, plenary could only turn some of these issues around.”

The list of positive elements is short:

1. Members of the European Parliament now all recognise that double funding (farmers paid twice for the same environmental measure) is illegal and therefore cannot be part of the next CAP.

2. On cross compliance, they voted to re-include most, but crucially not all, elements of existing good farming practices and legislation.

3. On greening, one of the most fundamentally important aspects of this round of reform, the Parliament’s complete lack of agreement meant that some of the worst examples of greenwashing proposed by the agricultural committee, were rejected.

“The European Parliament has defused some of the worst counter reform proposals that came out of the Agriculture Committee, but has managed only partial damage control,” noted Trees Robijns.

She continued, “The text coming out of the Parliament today would still leave us with a dysfunctional CAP that does not address the urgent crisis in the countryside and does not justify 40% of the EU budget being spent on CAP.”

The Parliament vote concludes one key step in the CAP negotiations. The next step is to reach an agreement between Member States within the European Council. This is all preparation for the final negotiations between the three EU Institutions: Commission, Parliament and Council. BirdLife Europe has real concerns that the discussions in the Council have so far been very regressive with Member States mostly focused on trying to exempt their own farmers from any real environmental commitments. We therefore call upon Council to show responsibility and move toward real reform.