Possible Threats to Pillar 2 Funding could be a Huge Set Back for the Environment and Rural Areas
In the run up to the announcement of the Commission’s proposals on the EU budget for 2014-2020, rumours abound that a large slice of Pillar 2 of the CAP, essential for delivering environmental management throughout the EU-27, may be sacrificed to avoid significant cuts to Pillar 1 direct payments to farmers.
One rumour even suggests that ‘reverse modulation’ may take place, whereby cuts in the Pillar 2 budget would be used to increase the Pillar 1 budget, under the auspices of paying for the proposed ‘greening elements’. Figures of as much as a 30 per cent cut to Pillar 2 have been suggested.
Speaking at a mini-plenary session of the European Parliament earlier this week, Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, attempted to waylay the rumours, stating that ‘the Commission President, the College and I lay great store by the two Pillars’ and that Pillar 2 ‘will not pay the price in the next budgetary perspectives’.
However, despite his good intentions, he is operating within a political and economic environment where many Member States would prefer to see rural development funding cut (given that it needs to be co-financed from national sources) than see any reduction in their Pillar 1 payments. Even amongst the other Commissioners, he may not be able to garner sufficient support to make good on his promises.
Such a significant cut in Pillar 2 funding would mark a seriously backwards step in the significant progress that has been made over the past 20 years to promote more sustainable management of agricultural land to ensure the delivery of environmental public goods and essential ecosystem services. The proposals to ‘green’ Pillar 1 will only ever be able to deliver a basic level of environmental management. Without sufficient funding available to Member States through Pillar 2, agri-environment schemes are likely to come under pressure to be cut. This would lead to a loss of support to farmers to carry out environmentally beneficial management, with risks to elements of the countryside that the public value highly, such farmland birds, wildflower meadows and beautiful landscapes, as well as the important functions land provides, such as soil and water quality and storing carbon.
These rumours need to be taken seriously if the environment is not to be the major loser in these financial decisions. Given the ambitious EU targets for biodiversity and climate that all Member States have signed up to, and the need for agriculture to play a significant role in meeting them, it would be incomprehensible the very part of the budget that is most focused on delivering this agenda were to be slashed.
24 Jun 2011