Europe and Central Asia
10 Apr 2015

“Simplification”? Not the solution for European agriculture

Cornfield © VM Stella, Flickr
By Trees Robijns

Simplification is one of President Juncker’s dubious buzzwords. In the era of “deregulation” it effectively translates to more and more exemptions which allow farmers and land managers to not deliver for nature. The horror story in France proves it: maize monocolture will be considered “green”. Signed and approved by the Juncker Commission.

The issue of “simplification” was put forward from the very beginning by Mr. Juncker, President of the European Commission, in his Mission letter to Mr. Hogan, the Commissioner for Agriculture. And Mr. Hogan has made it his 2015 and 2016 top priority. He’s been very busy talking about it with both Member States and the Parliament, but has not yet had a real consultation with civil society about it. While we can respect his reasoning, we’ve been disappointed too often by this and by Member States as well, specifically, ministries of agriculture who do not ask for, or listen to, everyone’s opinion, or those they’d rather not hear.

This is one reason we were very pleased when Mr. Hogan attended our conference. It was organized by the EEB, the Danish Ecological Council and BirdLife Europe, to discuss the future of sustainable EU farming and to give citizens a chance to voice their opinions. Mr. Hogan’s opening speech emphasized that you cannot have economic sustainability without environmental sustainability, but he did not completely convince us that he will tackle the existing and future environmental problems we face in agriculture. Sure, he’s inherited the latest difficult reform and over 50 years of policy, but the big question that remains is whether or not one should keep this old legacy or find the courage to define an entirely new and sustainable path forward. The latest EEA report on the European Environment’s State and Outlook has given us a scary picture, such as the dramatic state of grassland biodiversity of which 63% is in a unfavourable state, reminding us again why a new path forward may be best.

And in fact, if someone was still doubting the green credentials of the Commission, these were given another blow a few weeks ago when the Commission pronounced Maize monoculture as “green” in an attempt to exempt French farmers from the new CAP obligations, that would have required them to grow multiple crops on their land. The French maize lobby promptly heralded this new loophole as welcomed “simplification”. That this obligation was put exactly in place to tackle the problems arising from monoculture seems beside the point. The new CAP farce has reached its paroxysm. When questioned on this point at our conference, Mr. Hogan said that he was only implementing past legislation, completely ignoring the fact that the decision which grants the French a right to continue business as usual has been taken under his watch, and after heavy discussions within the Commission.

The environmental movement has not yet put forward opinions about simplification like the other stakeholders interested in this sector. Because the question we keep asking is: why invest our time in simplifying a policy that does not deliver what it promises? Instead, we are investing our time to improve rural development to ensure that funds are channelled into high value conservation work. We are also spending our time monitoring the implementation of Pillar 1 greening schemes, such as maize monoculture and others, to question fundamental problems. We find it more important to achieve some delivery on the ground, rather than simplifying a policy that is running into the wall. But this does not mean we won’t engage as constructively as possible with anything useful coming out of the simplification exercise. Even though the chances of this are sadly slim.

In the meantime, BirdLife partners have been re-thinking the situation more fundamentally. NABU (BirdLife Partner in Germany), just released a paper questioning the "integration approach" of co-financing the implementation of EU Nature Directives through sectoral EU funds and policies (more info, soon in English, here). It draws very sobering conclusions about the financial gap that will prevent effective biodiversity action in the coming years in Germany, and elsewhere. NABU outlines the main reasons it has not been possible so far to mobilise enough targeted funding, especially from the EU's Rural Development Fund. It concludes by offering two alternative models: one the establishment of a dedicated EU Environment Fund, the second a combination of earmarked biodiversity budgets in existing funds which give environmental authorities a much stronger role in distribution. Both models suggest a massive scaling down and reallocation of CAP Pillar 1.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

BirdLife will bring these ideas to the table in Brussels where we hope to kick-start an important discussion, not about the next moves to simplify a policy by undermining its tools and questioning its goals, but to steer the debate on how we can reach common objectives, on how to “halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity” - including that on farmland across Europe.

We hope that Mr. Hogan will be open to this more fundamental discussion, rather than focusing on “simplification” in the margins.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.