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Scientists' recommendations for the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union

A team of 300 European scientists, in consultation with the EU Commission, has developed recommendations on how the future CAP of the European Union can make a substantial contribution to the protection of biodiversity with the instruments already adopted.

Recommendations for the design of the CAP

The report, written by researchers from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), the Thünen Institute for Rural Areas and the University of Rostock, was presented to the EU Commission on 19 May. In the report, more than 300 scientists from 22 EU member states make recommendations on the specific design of the currently proposed CAP. It is primarily aimed at political decision-makers in the EU member states, such as ministry officials, who will have much greater leeway in shaping environmental measures in the new CAP. By the end of May, the European Union wants to clarify the rules under which farmers will be supported in future under a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the EU Commission are to be concluded in a final "super trilogue".

The three instruments of the CAP

At the centre of the negotiations is the concrete design of the CAP's green architecture. It is the EU's response to the failure so far to improve the environmental balance of European agriculture and, in particular, to halt the loss of biodiversity on agricultural land. It essentially comprises three instruments: 

  • Extended conditionality: In order to receive CAP payments, farmers must henceforth comply with higher environmental requirements. For example, part of the land must be taken out of production and made available for nature to develop.
  • In addition, agri-environmental and climate measures (AECM) will be introduced as before.
  • Voluntary "eco-regulations" (eco-schemes) are added as a new instrument.

Whether the Green Architecture can effectively protect and promote biodiversity depends strongly on the details. In the case of conditionality, for example, the decisive factors are how high the percentage of non-productive land must be, what this figure refers to and what measures are permitted on this land.

The report focuses on the new instrument, the eco-regulations. These are to replace the so-called "greening", which had proved largely ineffective in the previous CAP. Instead of receiving a rigid catalogue of measures from the EU, the member states are to be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to promote. Moreover, the organic schemes are to be voluntary. This means that farmers can decide for themselves whether or not to implement further measures and be paid for them. Which measures the organic schemes will include is also still open. The EU will not impose any requirements on the member states. How much influence the EU Commission will have in the implementation is part of the current negotiations. The eco-regulations are supposed to link part of the money from the so-called first pillar of the coming CAP, which accounts for 70 percent of the total budget, to additional environmental measures. Currently, the European Parliament is demanding 30 percent of the first pillar for the eco-schemes, while the Council of Ministers wants to limit it to 20 percent. 

Instruments must complement each other

The researchers stress that it is important that the instruments complement each other. The recommendations:

  • Set high basic requirements (through conditionality) for CAP support, such as taking at least 5 per cent of farmland out of cultivation and making it available for nature conservation;
  • prohibit retrogression, i.e. do not allow any deterioration of the ecological status of habitats such as grassland;
  • give agri-environmental programmes, as demonstrably the most effective measures to protect biodiversity, high priority in the budgeting of agri-environmental support instruments under the CAP;
  • promote as organic schemes only measures that have been proven to be effective and exclude those that are implemented by farmers anyway;
  • a points system to reward the benefits and effectiveness of measures;
  • encourage large-scale planning of measures and cooperation between farmers. 

What these points actually mean for the individual member states varies greatly. In the report, experts from a wide range of EU countries give concrete and tested recommendations on how the Common Agricultural Policy can be made sustainable and efficient by all stakeholders.

Click here for the press release of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research

Click here for the report

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