Algae blooms are already being reported across the Baltic Sea, right when people are starting to enjoy their summer holidays. On the sea floor, dead zones cover an even larger area than last year. Holiday seekers may not be aware of it, but more than half of the nutrients that cause this devastation come from agriculture in the region.
Yesterday a ‘new’ CAP was agreed but this disappointing final agreement will continue to undermine good farming practices and thus contribute to increased pollution, loss of biodiversity and an aggravated eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. Instead, the European taxpayer is being asked to continue to support a subsidy system to farmers with only limited environmental conditionality.
WWF is especially alarmed at the way the Rural Development Fund (RDF) has been marginalised under this agreement. The so-called “greening” – or the big environmental ambition – has been severely watered down. For example, 35% of Europe’s farmland is completely exempted from actions on the grounds that the EU has set the limit for mandatory implementation of environmental measures to include only farms larger than 15 hectares.
“We believe that neither the environment, agriculture, nor taxpayers will benefit from this reform. WWF had advocated for a reform that would support farmers for the production of public goods, like a clean environment, beautiful and thriving rural landscapes, and a living Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, this opportunity has now been lost for the coming seven years. All countries now have a heavy responsibility to work locally to ensure that the budgets for their National Rural Development Programmes remain a priority – as well as measures designed to ensure that our tax money is used in a way that will benefit public goods,” says Pauli Merriman, Programme Director at the WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme.
WWF’s vision for a Common Rural and Environmental Policy:
A modern and effective agricultural policy should be built on four basic principles:
Public payments for public goods. Most goods and services that are produced by farmers can be fully paid for by the market. But there are some public benefits that will not be paid for that way, and must therefore be paid for collectively. These benefits include environmental functions such as sustainable water management, the preservation of biodiversity and the maintenance of valued cultural and historic landscapes; as well as some non-environmental benefits such as public access and enjoyment, rural employment and the socio-economic viability of rural areas.
The farming sector often lists food security as a public good that should be subsidized with public money. Secure access to food at stable and reasonable prices surely is something we all want, but subsidizing farm businesses in general will not increase productivity or efficiency in the agricultural sector. In fact, subsidies have a tendency to distort markets, produce inefficiencies and in the end lead to higher prices for consumers.
The Polluter Pays Principle. All public payments should be underpinned by a strong regulatory floor and the application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle. All the more, all beneficiaries in receipt of public payments should be able to demonstrate compliance with standards established by EU and national legislation such as the Nitrates Directive.
Payments linked to clear objectives and targets. One of the greatest failures of the present agricultural policy is its inability to show how existing subsidies lead to their intended effects. No subsidies should be provided without a clear definition of what that specific subsidy is intended to provide. There should, be a thorough evaluation of how effectively subsidies are delivering to sustainability objectives
Fair and transparent distribution of funding. The existing division between agriculture in old and new Member States must be abandoned. The distribution of funds should be a questions of where benfits are being provided to the European Society, rather than based on historical entitlements. Farmers who contribute public goods should receive the same relative amount of compensation, only adjusted for differences in purchasing power, regardless of which part of Europe they operate in.