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Eco-friendly EEC?

Future of Europe`s countryside brought back from the brinkā€¦

Brussels, Belgium ? The future of Europe`s countryside has been spared at the last minute in today`s Commission`s plans for rural development, says BirdLife International, Friends of the Earth and the European Environmental Bureau. The draft text for the new Rural Development Regulation, due to be introduced in 2007, includes several important principles which were missing from earlier drafts. The coalition is giving a cautious welcome to the proposal but still intends to press the Council to amend some of the shortfalls that it still contains. The regulation reinstates requirements for all Member States to offer agri-environment schemes to all EU farmers and retains the flexibility to tailor schemes to meet specific conservation needs.

About two-thirds of the rural development funds can still be spent to support LFAs and agri-environment schemes. Although this is an improvement on earlier drafts which would have resulted in budget cuts for several countries, some Member States may still need to reduce their spending even at this level. The coalition said: Although we are relieved to see that some of our concerns have been addressed, it is nonetheless disheartening to see how much energy we have had to spend to oppose backward-looking draft proposals, and only to retain past achievements, rather than making progress on environmental integration.Concern remains over the Rural Development budget, which is too small to do the job it is being asked to, while the lion`s share of agriculture money is still paid in direct subsidies. The proposed increase in the budget is only due to the EU enlargement and it is unlikely to meet all the development and environmental objectives it is set out to achieve. Environmental groups remain concerned about plans to scrap Good Farming Practice requirements, the standards that farmers must meet before getting support for land-management. These have been replaced with more narrowly focused cross-compliance requirements, representing a potential watering down of environmental protection. Finally, the rate of EU co-financing of green measures will also be reduced by 5% with a potential risk to reduce Member States` capacity and willingness to spend on the environment.

Contact: Giovanna Pisano, RSPB Senior Policy Officer, BirdLife Taskforce coordinator, Tel: +44 1767 680551; Martin Konecny, Agriculture Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe, Tel: +32 2 542 01 85; Christine Falter, EU Policy Officer, European Environmental Bureau, Tel: +32 2 289 1306

4th July 2014