Alyn Smith MEP, full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, has greeted a new European Commission working paper on greening with approval, as the paper, in response to consistent criticism of the original proposals by Parliament and Council, explores new options for the greening element of Common Agricultural Policy direct payments - new options which should make things a bit easier for Scottish farmers.
"This is good news, and proof that the legislative process is working. Perhaps some were a bit too quick to declare that all was lost - we have procedures in Europe for a reason, and these procedures seem to be working fine thus far.
"It is the role of the Commission to produce draft proposals, which they will naturally try to defend. However, it is the role of Council and Parliament to analyse, criticise and amend those proposals, and that is precisely what we have done on greening. It's clear that the "one size fits all" attitude of the Commission simply won't work on the ground in large parts of Europe - we need a much more flexible attitude to ensure measures fit local realities, yet ensure equivalence of effort towards greening.
"We now have "alternatives papers" from the Council and the Commission, and the Agriculture Committee will be doing its own work as we proceed towards amendments and a vote. However, these new proposals can themselves be critiqued - we'll need to see if 10 hectares is a high enough threshold, and whether 8 years is still too short - but it's encouraging that the debate is moving on."
- The Commission is open to allowing the inclusion of farms operating under an agri-environmental scheme or an environmental certification scheme, directly into greening, provided that the whole farm is covered by the scheme and that the commitments go beyond the greening baseline.
- Furthermore, the Commission is testing new options on crop diversification and permanent pasture. It is proposed that the threshold for inclusion into the diversification requirement should be raised from 3 to 10 hectares, and that farms of less than 50 hectares where a significant part is covered by permanent and temporary grassland should be exempted.
- Crucially, for the permanent pasture requirement, they are willing to accept "surfaces where non-herbaceous species are predominant", and areas without predominant grass but "still suitable for grazing that form part of traditional agricultural systems."
- Provisions will be given to Member States to "apply a reduction coefficient for the calculation of such hectares into eligible hectares", to prevent too much land entering the system and diluting direct payments.
- Finally, the definition of permanent pasture will be altered to include land out of the crop rotations for 8 years or longer, not 5 - bringing it closer to Scottish realities.