Paul Brannen MP writes: During the hearing of the then Commissioner-designate for agriculture and rural development Phil Hogan on 2nd October 2014 I asked him whether he planned to commit European Union (EU) to ensuring that agricultural practices relevant to soil protection are observed throughout the EU and whether he would propose any new measures aimed at increasing resilience of European farmland to flooding.
My choice of question came from the fact that intensive agriculture in Europe is known to have caused a high level of top-soil erosion which has contributed to flooding such as the UK winter floods. But also, having read the new head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker’s mission letter to Phil Hogan I did not find any assurances that Hogan will be tasked with duties aimed at making our agriculture more sustainable and resilient to climate change.
For climate change and global problems resulting from it, including hunger, poverty or biodiversity loss is perhaps the single biggest challenge our world faces today. I was happy to read that among the priorities assigned by Mr Juncker to the agricultural portfolio of the Commission in its new term was to “renew efforts in the agricultural sector to contribute to energy efficiency and emissions reductions”. However, during his presentation at the hearing, Mr Hogan focused mostly on pointing out his commitment to making the CAP leaner and slimmer, with an over-encompassing motto of ‘simplification’.
I fully share farmers’ concerns towards excessive complexity of the CAP which has not been addressed during its latest reform and continues to bring confusion and uncertainty, as in case of Ecological Focus Areas or the three crop rule of diversification. What I am afraid of is that the new Commissioner will focus solely on dismantling whatever has been achieved to make the CAP greener and more responsible in the eyes of the taxpayer. I am fully in favour of a Simple CAP, but I am also in favour of a CAP that is Sustainable.
These two “S-words” have formed the main axis of disagreement between Mr Juncker’s vision of the economy and the environment and that of ours as European socialists and democrats. We pushed hard to make our voice heard and we succeeded – in extending the mandate of Frans Timmermans, the Commission Vice-president for Better Regulation (i.e. ‘Simplification’) to include Sustainability on an equal footing. I am convinced that European agriculture, including UK farming, can only benefit from a balanced combination of the “Simple” and “Sustainable”.
With regards to “Simple”, I agree with Mr Juncker and Mr Hogan in that I would like to see CAP expenditure, particularly under Rural Development Programmes, better integrated with job creation and fostering economic growth. I welcome the link made by the new Commissioner between increased efficiency of European agriculture, commitment to emissions reduction, innovation and rural development. With a smart policy drawn along these lines we can achieve both an efficient food sector and create new entrepreneurship opportunities.
At the same time, our agriculture needs to deliver in the provision of food and environmental public goods to the consumers as well as contribute to wider climate change mitigation efforts. In a world where nearly 805 million people are suffering from hunger and as the UN IPCC predicts, food insecurity may yet increase by 15-40% by the year 2050 we have to be extremely careful as to how we manage our finite resources in the climate-constrained countryside. Along with others, we clearly have to start thinking about agriculture as a valuable carbon sink, but also as a climate change contributor and perhaps focus on reducing the carbon footprint and food waste across the food supply chain, say, by promoting local markets, short chains or seasonality. In my opinion, we should also invest in our forests, with their immense value to our countryside, local industries and the atmosphere.
Discussions on the post-2020 CAP have already started. With ambitious goals ahead us, I am convinced that we can continue to shape a CAP that delivers for the farmers, consumers and the environment alike.
Paul Brannen MEP is MEP for the North of England. He is a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development as well as a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (Substitute). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBrannenNE