New EU reforms fail European wildlife



Despite political proclamation of increased environmental focus, experts argue that the European Union’s recent agricultural reforms are far too weak to have any positive impact on the continent’s shrinking farmland biodiversity, and call on member states to take action.


© flickr | ELKayPics_away | zigzag
Leipzig, Germany, 6 June 2014

Latest reforms of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have been declared significantly "greener” by the Members of the European Parliament, following promises to make the environment and climate change ‘core issues’ for the new CAP.

However, leading conservation experts writing in the journal Science warn that after three years of CAP negotiations the environmental reforms are so diluted they will be of no benefit to European wildlife, and biodiversity will continue to decline across the continent.

Under the new CAP almost a third of direct payments to farmers are now subject to conditions relating to ‘greening measures’. However, disagreements over the measures have led to a wide range of exemptions being put in place.

After analysing the details of the reformed CAP, experts from a number of major organisations revealed that about half of all farmland and 80-90% of all the farmers in the EU could be exempt from having to abide by two of the three new environmental requirements. At the same time, budgets to support voluntary ‘greening measures’ have been reduced. Individual member states must use the flexibility offered by the reforms to design national plans for sustaining ecosystems, say the experts. Unless member states take serious steps beyond those required for the CAP, the EU’s own biodiversity targets for 2020 are very unlikely to be met.

"The weak environmental reforms in the CAP put the fate of Europe’s declining biodiversity at the hands of the individual member states,” said Dr Guy Pe’er, lead author from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, who collaborated with a range of experts. "The EU should openly communicate this dependency, and encourage member states to make responsible decisions, rather than pretend that the reform allows meeting the EU’s important ecological targets”, says Pe’er.

The authors maintain that expansion of the EU and its common market continues to drive agricultural intensification across Europe at the expense of wildlife and natural habitats.

The Common Agricultural Policy – which uses almost 40% of the EU’s budget and influences the management of half of its entire territory – provides subsidies that increase the scale of farming throughout the EU. This has led to increased grassland conversion and peatland drainage. The situation is particularly severe in new member states, where the use of agri-chemicals such as fertilizers has grown rapidly. This continues to take a heavy toll on wildlife, with dramatic declines in everything from the farmland bird index to ‘permanent’ grassland that, in newer member states, has shrunk over 11% in just the last decade.

To address this, the new CAP made 30% of all direct payments to farmers conditional on compliance with three ‘greening measures’: establishing Ecological Focus Areas, maintaining permanent grasslands, and setting minimum requirements on number of crops grown to stop areas slipping into homogenous ‘monocultures’. However, following thorough analysis, experts have found that the large number of clauses introduced to the greening measures exempt over 88% of farmers in the EU, and over 48% of its agricultural areas from having to incorporate Ecological Focus Areas. 81% of arable farmers are now exempt from the crop diversity measure, and the measure meant to protect natural grassland allows a further loss of 5% of their extent by 2020.
This article originally appeared at UFZ
Tags: Biodiversity Management | European B&B Campaign | Agriculture and food


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