Reacting to the Commission's Communication 'Towards a CAP Health Check' published today, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) expressed its disappointment about the weak sign of the Commission's intention to use this Health Check as an opportunity to turn the CAP into a more effective instrument for improving the environmental performance of farming.
Agriculture's environmental impacts are well-known and widely recognised, particularly in discussions on climate change and biodiversity. Last week's, IPCC final synthesis report on climate change  stated that "it is very likely that observed increase in methane concentration is predominantly due to agriculture and fossil fuel use". The policy changes proposed by IPCC echo those from a biodiversity angle in the 2005 UN's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment . The message there was very clear: if we are to meet the challenges posed to us by the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, we need to radically change our agricultural practices and policies.
John Hontelez, Secretary General of the EEB said: "There is overwhelming scientific evidence and policy analysis available on the need for further reforming our agriculture policies and practices. It is therefore disappointing that the Commission seems to shy away from a further reform of such a key policy area as agriculture. Instead of making progress on this much needed reform path, the Commission's main priority seems to be to maintain the status quo."
One fundamental problem of the current status quo is that the majority of Europe's agriculture budget is spent on payments to farmers handed out on the basis of amount of food produced with no direct relation to the environmental performance of the farmer. The only condition is that environmental legislation is respected. The EEB believes that there is a strong case for public payments for well-defined public goods  and services provided by farmers and landowners. The challenges posed by climate change and biodiversity only reinforce this case. Redirecting subsidies flows to those farmers who actually deliver public services would also address one of the CAP's perhaps most threatening illnesses: the total lack of legitimacy for the current direct payment scheme.
John Hontelez continued: The case for a fundamental reform of agriculture policy is clear. At the very least we expect this CAP Health Check to be used as an opportunity to start a public discussion about such a reform, including what the objectives of such a new CAP policy should be and what kind of instruments need to play a role."
In addition, the EEB stresses the need to tackle a number of issues of more immediate concern. Most importantly, the Commission should carry out an evaluation of the effectiveness of the cross-compliance system  for protecting the environment, rather then focussing only on simplifying the system. Although the Commission rightly identifies the need to replace the environmental benefits stemming from the compulsory set aside system with an alternative, the EEB believes this alternative should also be a compulsory system, rather then a voluntary scheme under rural development programmes.
For further information contact:
Pieter de Pous, EEB policy officer +32 2 289 13 06
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 Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change < Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, draft copy of 16 November 2007
 The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, published in 2005 and commissioned by the UN, represents a global scientific consensus on the current state of our ecosystems and the services they provide. It outlines a number of policy options to address the decline of ecosystems. Reform of agricultural policies is one of them.
 An example of 'public goods' is the provision of environmental services which go beyond regulatory requirements, the maintenance of attractive landscapes as well as social goals such as maintaining the quality of life in rural areas.
 Under cross-compliance farmers failing to meet regulatory requirements in the field of environment, health and animal welfare may lose some or all of the subsidies they receive. Cross-compliance became mandatory only in 2005 for some laws and has so far only been assessed on its impact on administration and bureaucracy, not on whether it has achieved what it was designed to achieve: better protection of the environment.