European Commission briefing on CAP future in Tallinn

The Commission presented the CAP future communication “The Future of Food and Farming” in Tallinn on 14th of December. Not much new info compared to what one can get from the reading of the document could be obtained. Some minor clarifications and indeed confirmation of the initial impressions did result from attending the meeting though.

The commission wants to maintain the two-pillar structure and seems to have support from the member states on that. This does not mean that environmental NGOs should stop saying that this system is obsolete and needs a radical reform but the real question at this stage seems to be how much money will go into which pillar. Since the financing is part of MFF, the Commission was adamant not to give a hint about this matter. For the NGO community there seems to a clear case for a strong stance on MFF: all the cuts resulting from Brexit must happen in Pillar I – no cuts to Pillar II.

Meeting shed some additional light on programming both pillars. The CAP strategic plans will cover both pillars with less detail than the current rural development planning for Pillar II. It was stressed however that less detail in bureaucracy would not mean less substance – hopefully it will be so in reality as well. This common planning does make some sense, but once again makes the whole idea of maintaining two pillars quite senseless.

Programming is naturally connected with higher flexibility and subsidiarity, with less prescribed details and more responsibility to member states to design the measures that would deliver to agreed common objectives. Less meddlesome bureaucratic details regarding things like a number of the trees and width of hedges are definitely good. But in order to avoid a rush to the bottom in environmental requirements clear common goals are absolutely necessary. It was however not possible to get a good picture of what kind of common goals are foreseen – neither from reading the communication nor on the spot during the event.

The environment gets quite a lot of attention in the communication document but the text is very generic, and the exchange on the subject in Tallinn did not produce much clarity here. Environmental NGOs will, therefore, need to come up with clear demands regarding the environmental goals for the CAP. Such goals must include protecting biodiversity related to farming, for example HNV farmland (especially semi-natural pasture and meadow habitats), stopping and reversing loss of farmland birds, securing favorable status of all agriculture-dependent Birds Directive Annex I species, and Habitats directive Annex I habitat types and Annex II species. They also must include reduction of surplus and/or run-off of the plant nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), and cuts in pesticide use. The latter is also connected to an important goal of maintaining populations of pollinators and natural enemies of the pests. Protecting organic matter of the soils, and decrease in agricultural emissions of GHG and ammonia must also become part of the future policy.

It also seems that NGOs will not only need to come up with the necessary goals but also press for the application of measurable indicators for these since an answer “how would you measure this?” is quick to follow any suggestions on the goals. Luckily many important indicators are already monitored and indeed also collected by Eurostat – but not all, so we need to push for progress here as well.

Post by Aleksei Lotman, Estonian Fund for Nature


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