Eco-schemes feature in EU's greener common farm policy

Farmers will be afforded flexibility on the way to higher environmental standards in farming in the post-2020 common agricultural policy reform package agreed provisionally by EU ministers Wednesday.

The position agreed by the Farm Council put forward strong commitments from Member States for higher environmental ambition with instruments such as mandatory eco-schemes and enhanced conditionality. At the same time, the agreed position allows states flexibility in how they reach environmental goals. For instance, there would be a two-year pilot phase for eco-schemes and member states would enjoy flexibility on how to allocate funds under different green practices.

A 'general approach' gives the Council the political mandate to kick-off negotiations with the European Parliament, once it agrees its own position, with a view to reaching overall agreement.

The agreement was hailed as a milestone for Europe's agricultural policy by Germany's agriculture minister Julia Klöckner, for the EU presidency: "Member states demonstrated their ambition for higher environmental standards in farming and at the same time supported the needed flexibility in ensuring farmers' competitiveness. This agreement fulfils the aspiration of a greener, fairer and simpler CAP."

The reform of the CAP foresees that while more flexibility will be given to member states in shaping rules and funding allocations through the development of national strategic plans, they will be obliged to demonstrate a higher environmental ambition compared to the current period. A so-called 'new delivery model' would favour performance over compliance: it would enables countries to choose the best tools and actions at their disposal (and also taking into account national specificities) to reach the agreed EU-wide objectives and standards.

Some concrete examples of member states will fulfil higher environmental standards, which were debated and agreed during the two-day Council, include:

  • Farmers would receive financial support under the condition that they adopt practices beneficial for the climate and the environment, to make the CAP even greener than before.
  • Farmers going beyond the basic environment and climate requirements would get additional financial support through the introduction of 'eco-schemes'. These new instruments for environment and climate protection would be linked to a dedicated budget, constituting part of the direct payments budget. It would be ring-fenced at 20%, which means that they would be unlocked through the use of eco-schemes. An initial pilot phase of two years would ensure that member states avoid losing much-needed funds while getting acquainted with the new instruments. Indicative examples of eco-schemes include practices like precision farming, agroforestry, and organic farming, but member states would be free to design their own instruments on the basis of their needs.
  • All farmers would be bound to higher environmental standards; even the smaller ones. To help them in this greening transition, small farmers would be subject to more simplified controls, reducing administrative burden while assuring their contribution to environmental and climate goals.
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