In spite of political declarations of increased environmental attention, specialists comment that the EU’s recent agricultural reforms are much too fragile to have any positive impact on the continent’s declining farmland biodiversity, and call on member states to take action.
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 from the Universities of Cambridge, Kent, Freiburg, Bern, Wageningen MTA Centre for Ecological Research, Hungary; Writtle College, and several conservation organizations (the Society for Conservation Biology, Royal Society for Protection of Birds, BirdLife Europe, Butterfly Conservation Europe and Friends of the Earth – Switzerland).
“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.