The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has traditionally been one of the most important competencies of the European Union. It has also been one of the most contentious; over the years, critics have lined up to accuse the CAP of being wasteful (producing surplus ‘butter mountains’ and ‘wine lakes’), costly, damaging to the environment, and unfair towards farmers in developing nations. Nevertheless, there have been reforms since its was first introduced in 1962.
For one thing, the relative cost of CAP has been decreasing steadily, as the share of the EU budget dedicated to it has fallen from 73% in 1985 to 39% in 2013. In recent years, there has also been a push to ‘green’ the CAP, with a greater consideration for the environmental impact of EU policies.
On 4 June 2015, Debating Europe held a youth forum in Brussels. The event, in partnership with Friends of Europe and Green Week 2015, brought together young people with European policymakers to discuss biodiversity and environmental sustainability. We had the opportunity to put questions from Debating Europe readers to several of the people attending the event, and one of the issues that came up was the impact of the CAP on biodiversity.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) recently published a report on biodiversity. According to the EEA, the majority of habitats and species in Europe have an “unfavourable” conservation status, and efforts to protect them remain limited and patchy. The EEA’s report also suggests that agriculture is indeed the single biggest threat to biodiversity in Europe, with grasslands suffering as farming intensifies.
We had a question from Jim who argues that the CAP must take a large part of the blame for the loss of biodiversity in the EU. He believes that payments from the CAP encouraged farmers to cut down “apple orchards and hedgerows, opening up fields that once were small and historic and basically killing off animals, flora and fauna, birds and insects in our ecosystem”.
To get a reaction, we put Jim’s comment to Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director at the European Environment Agency (EEA). How would he respond?
We also had a question from Inês asking why there aren’t better laws to protect biodiversity in Europe. If biodiversity is gradually being eroded, shouldn’t there be a stronger legal and policy framework in place to protect it?
We put this question to Christian Schwarzer, a Member of the Steering Committee of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network and Youth Ambassador for the UN Decade on Biodiversity. What did he have to say?
Finally, we had a question sent in from Tanya, a student from Denmark, asking who should pay the bill for a better environment? This is a particularly timely question as this week is ‘EU Sustainable Energy Week 2015‘, bringing together public authorities, energy agencies, research organisations, NGOs, businesses, and representatives of private consumers in Brussels to discuss how to supply the EU with secure, clean and efficient energy.
As Europe considers how to make the switch away from fossil fuels, will there be costs, particularly in the short term, associated with the transition? For that matter, are there costs associated with protecting biodiversity and the environment in general? And, if so, who should foot the bill?
To get a response, we put Tanya’s comment to Maddy Bartlett, Founding Chair of the Bristol Nature Network. What would she say?
Could the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) do more to protect biodiversity in Europe? Why aren’t there stronger EU laws to protect biodiversity? And who should foot the bill for a better environment? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!