Rural Development (Pillar II) funding & agri-environment schemes (AES)
Why is this a priority?
Increased resources for Rural Development and a re-focusing of support towards environmental and climate change objectives, if implemented soundly, would go a significant way to addressing issues of resource degradation and biodiversity loss. While Pillar I greening may bring some benefits for biodiversity and environmental quality (see below), a strong Pillar II with sufficient budget for AES is needed for more targeted conservation measures.
A) Rural Development minimum spending requirement
- A 25% minimum spend requirement for ‘climate change mitigation and adaptation and land management’ measures has been included in the proposals. However, this does not represent an improvement on the previous funding period as a like requirement was already present. In addition, the requirement is featured only in the preamble, rendering it weak from a legal perspective. The minimum spending requirement must be increased to 50% and pay for well-designed and targeted environmental measures only (including: agri-environment, organic farming, Natura 2000 and Water Framework Directive measures, investments improving the resilience and environmental value of forest ecosystems, forest-environmental and climate services and forest conservation). This is necessary to increase the level of environmental ambition in the CAP. The requirement must also be explicitly stated within the articles to ensure it remains mandatory.
- Currently, this 25% also includes “payments to areas facing natural or other specific constraints” (Less Favoured Areas). There are significant questions around the environmental benefit of this measure, as well as possible double payment issues due to a similar Pillar I Areas under Natural Constraints payment. Therefore BirdLife would support the removal of such payments from the minimum spend unless they are specifically linked to environmental delivery in High Nature Value farming systems.
B) Rural Development structure
- The proposal intends to achieve three objectives (competitiveness, sustainable management of natural resources and balanced regional development) through a new system of six priorities.
- Member States must submit an ex-ante evaluation of their Rural Development Programme(s) (RDPs) which, if executed properly, could be very positive. However, Annex IV, which outlines the basis for evaluation, is currently too vague and limited to do this adequately.
- Significant questions remain whether enough safeguards have been put in place to ensure climate change measures will also benefit the wider environment, as they could potentially undermine or even cause harm to other environmental objectives e.g. inappropriate development of anaerobic digesters which demand purpose grown maize crops and could lead to soil degradation and water pollution issues.
C) Co-financing of Rural Development measures
- The maximum EAFRD contribution rate for RD measures has been set at 85% for less developed regions and 50% for all other regions. Higher co-financing rates are possible for measures such as knowledge transfer, producer groups, cooperation, young farmers and Leader.
- It is extremely disappointing that there is no mention of a higher co-financing rate for environmental measures as this would make some of the non-compulsory measures (e.g. Natura 2000) more attractive for Member States to implement. Higher rates must therefore be available for environmental measures.
D) Agri-environment schemes (AES)
- In the proposal, these measures are re-branded as ‘agri-environment-climate’ measures and remain a compulsory part of RDPs. Well-designed, implemented and funded AES must form a key component of the CAP after 2013 as they have a crucial role in supporting farmers to introduce more sustainable and wildlife-friendly practices and have proven delivery for the environment. Their important role, and the need for further improvements across the EU, has been highlighted by the European Court of Auditors (2011).
- It remains to be seen what impact the greening of Pillar I will have on AES but it has significant potential to act as an improved baseline. The major issues are what changes will be needed to the design and payment rates of existing schemes and what transition arrangements will be made. This needs to be clarified as soon as possible to avoid a drop in scheme uptake and renewal in the remaining years of the current programming period.
- The re-branding as ‘agri-environment-climate’ means that ring-fenced money will be expected to deliver a broader suite of objectives and as such is unlikely to be an adequate amount. Ring fenced spending for AES should therefore be increased.
- Attention should be paid to ensure that new climate change measures do not undermine, or even cause harm to, other environmental and biodiversity objectives.
- In addition to farmers, other land managers must be able to access AES.
Full BirdLife briefing on CAP reform
BirdLife Europe publications on agriculture and CAP
Video: Why we need a green reform of the CAP now, 2012
Trees Robijns, trees.robijns(at)birdlife.org
- fostering knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture, forestry, and rural areas
- enhancing competitiveness of all types of agriculture and enhancing farm viability
- promoting food chain organisation and risk management in agriculture
- restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems dependent on agriculture and forestry
- promoting resource efficiency and supporting the shift towards a low carbon and climate resilient economy in agriculture, food and forestry sectors
- promoting social inclusion poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas