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Rural development prospects, in particular, the key issues to be further developed within the mid-term review of the CAP, were debated at some length. The main conclusions of the seminar were presented to Corrado Pirzio- Biroli, the Chef de Cabinet of Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler.There was a very wide discussion with the major points emerging including: - Regulation of land-use: Landowners have considerable concern about the increasing amount of state regulation of land-use that limits economic activity and yet in itself adds nothing to environmental management of the countryside. The seminar delegates were clear in supporting a more market approach to conservation.- Long-term land management for environmental improvement: Future agri-environment measures should recognise the long-term nature of projects that set out to deliver environmental improvement. Major changes to land-use require schemes that will run for 20 years rather than 5 years.- The "environmental farm": There is a strong case for the promotion throughout Europe of the "environmental farm", where the main focus is the enhancement of biodiversity and landscape with agricultural production seen as a contributory land-use in terms of land management and economic contribution. This should be seen at the other end of a rural land-use spectrum to an intensive arable or livestock farm.- Current agri-environment measures: It is important to encourage all EU rural landowners to take up the schemes that have been developed as part of the Rural Development Plans. As part of this process they should have the flexibility to design and implement the specific measures to improve and maintain the environment supported by their land.- Future developments of the agri-environment measures: A key issue identified is the growing complexity of some of the Member State schemes. Whilst there is a case for the more complex schemes to address specific environmental problems, there is a clear case for a simple scheme that would bring higher environmental land management to large areas of Europe's countryside. A EU wide scheme is proposed, based on a simple area payment concept for management standards to meet agreed environmental practices. The price of increasing complexity is the resulting high administrative cost of the Member States. In effect, resources allocated to environmental improvement are being siphoned off to unnecessary bureaucracy. This should be brought under control by a centrally imposed limit of administrative costs not to exceed 5%.- Budgets: Whilst the current provisions are a significant improvement on the past, the agri-environment policy is under-funded. The environmental improvements that come from well-managed rural land produce high benefit to cost ratios. There is a strong case for increased funding at European, national, and regional levels, for works to ensure the maintenance and enhancement of the countryside. An allocation of Euro 10 billion per annum would be a more realistic budget to achieve the level of countryside improvement required. There are some reservations about switching funds from production support to agri-environment measures. But within a total fixed budget, the priority call for increased environmental resources is recognised. The numbers of farmers in the EU continues to decline, but the rural land does not. And the demands by society for its environmental management increase. The existing provisions should be used, and further developed, to ensure that CAP resources can be redirected to secure public goods by means of land management contracts through agri-environment measures.
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Publication:Europe Environment
Date:Jul 10, 2001

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