INTRODUCTION

Agriculture in Europe has changed more radically and rapidly than almost any other economic sector over the past 35 years. In 1960 around 15.2 million people were employed in the agricultural sector in the six countries which made up the European Economic Community. By 1987 this had dropped by two-thirds to 5.2 million. Across the European Union today only 10 million are employed in agriculture. The drift of people away from agriculture and the land has led to a fall in the number of farms and an increase in farm size and degree of specialisation. These factors, together with intensification, have had a significant impact on the environment. Farmers are now using more fertiliser, pesticides, seed and feedstuffs than ever before and the consequent pollution of groundwater from nitrates and pesticides is approaching dangerous proportions. Intensive animal production has opened up the possibility of serious leakages of slurry and animal waste to soil and water bodies. The clearing of land for large-scale mono-cultivation has drastically reduced the number of wild animal and plant species and their habitats.

 

COMMON AGRICULTURAL POLICY

The Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community set out the objectives of the agricultural policy in Article 39 as follows:

- to increase agricultural productivity;

- to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community;

- to stabilise markets;

- to ensure that supplies are available to the consumer at reasonable prices.

These basic principles were defined in 1958. The first products were subject to a common set of market rules in 1962. Common prices were set in 1968 so as to create a single market for agricultural products. This opened up new opportunities to farmers for their products, but it also meant keener competition which encouraged specialisation and large-scale or intensive farming. The price set for each product was generally the price of the country where the product was most expensive in order to prevent farmers in any one country from having to accept cuts. Imports were subjected to import duties or levies which ensured that they were more expensive than competing home products. In this way the principle of Community preference was sustained. At the same time a system of export subsidies was put in place to enable EC products to compete on world markets. Financial solidarity was guaranteed by making the EC budget the main financial instrument for operating and managing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Member States no longer paid their own farmers directly; they made a contribution to overall costs via the budget.

The Common Agricultural Policy has changed over the years in response to new circumstances and priorities as well as to developments in markets and technology. The first modification came in 1979 with other major changes being introduced between 1984 and 1988. Reform proposals were presented in 1991 and formally adopted in June 1992. These were needed to enable the Community to break out of the vicious circle created by high prices and excessive over-production. The five main objectives of the CAP are now as follows:

– to ensure competitiveness of Community agricultural production, to make its farmers more competitive on the home and export markets;

– to bring production down to levels more in line with market demand;

– to focus support for farmers' incomes where it is most needed;

– to encourage farmers to remain on the land;

– to protect the environment and develop the natural potential of the countryside.

Central to the package was the reduction of prices of key products and the withdrawal of land from production.

Agriculture in Europe is currently undergoing major structural and economic change. CAP policy is now based on lower support levels, greater market orientation and more environmentally friendly farming methods. Direct payments to farmers will be more selective and less intensive farming encouraged. Other measures include afforestation aid for the alternative uses of agricultural land and an early retirement scheme for farmers. While the agri-environmental and agri-forestry measures accompanying CAP reform must be implemented in all Member States, the early retirement scheme is optional.

The acknowledgement of the vulnerability and importance of the environment represents an important step. A number of measures have been introduced in EU Member States to promote environmentally friendly farming methods and a move to more extensive farming. These measures are underpinned by Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2078/92 (Agri-Environmental Action Programme):

 

RURAL ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION SCHEME (REPS)

The scheme, introduced in May 1994, aims to promote more environmentally friendly farming methods, to protect endangered species of flora and fauna and their habitats, and to encourage the use of organic and extensive farming methods. The participating farmer agrees to:

- draw up a waste storage, management, liming and fertilisation plan for his/her farm;

- maintain features such as hedges, stone walls, wildlife habitats and wetlands;

- draw up a grassland plan to deal with over-grazing;

- protect features of historical or archaeological interest;

- avoid using pesticides and fertilisers on hedgerows, and fringe vegetation of ponds and streams;

- maintain and upkeep old farm buildings and arrange for the removal of old and abandoned farm equipment.

Farmers receive an annual premium per hectare for a period of five years. There are added payments for meeting other conditions (such as setting-aside part of the land holding for 20 years; allowing the public access to land for leisure purposes; rearing animals in danger of extinction in Ireland) or if the farm is in a Natural Heritage Area, Area of Scientific Interest or in a water quality sensitive area.

 

CONTROL OF FARMYARD POLLUTION (CFP)

In 1989 the Government introduced a farmyard pollution control scheme which was designed to improve storage for farm slurry and silage. The results were quite encouraging (the number of fish kills as a result of farmyard pollution fell from 95 in 1987 to 22 in 1991). £145 million was allocated in grant aid to 25,800 applicants under the CFP scheme between 1989-93 and under funds agreed for the period 1994-1999.

Farm Improvement Scheme

Twenty-six thousand applicants were grant-aided a total of £121 million between 1986 and 1995 under the Farm Improvement Scheme.

 

IMPACT OF EU EXPANSION ON EUROPEAN AGRICULTURE

At present eleven countries are preparing to negotiate their accession to the European Union, representing an agricultural area of 60 million hectares (compared with 140 million currently farmed in the EU). A transitional period will be crucial for harmonisation and it is estimated that the annual cost of agricultural support will amount to between 12-15 billion ECU.

 

EU LEGISLATION

EU legislation governing agriculture and the environment concentrates largely on the control of emissions to air, soil and water. Main pieces of relevant legislation are as follows:

 

COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 77/537/EEC of 28 June 1977 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the measures to be taken against the emission of pollutants from diesel engines for use in wheeled agricultural or forestry tractors.

COUNCIL DIRECTIVE of 12 June 1986 on the protection of the environment, and in particular of the soil, when sewage sludge is used in agriculture.

COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 91/676/EEC of 12 December 1991 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.

COMMISSION DIRECTIVE 92/316/EEC of 11 March 1992 concerning aid envisaged by the

COUNCIL REGULATION (EEC) No. 2078/92 of 30 June 1992 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside.

 

Under EC DIRECTIVE 85/337/EEC on the assessment on the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be submitted for all proposed large scale pig and poultry units. Approximately 30 such EISs were submitted in Ireland in the period 1989/1992.

Council Directive 97/11/EC of 3 March 1997 amended Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment to include the following requirements:

 

Agriculture now also incorporates silviculture and aquaculture.

– Installations for the intensive rearing of poultry or pigs with numbers over a certain threshold (900 places for sows) are now included under Annex I which lists the project categories subject to EIA.

 

COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.

Commission Directive 95/38/EC of 17 July 1995 amending Annexes I and II of Directive 90/642/EEC on the fixing of maximum levels for pesticide residues and on certain products of plant origin, including fruit and vegetables, providing for the establishment of a list of maximum levels. L 197, 22.8.95.

Commission Directive 95/39/EC of 17 July 1995 amending the Annexes to Directives 86/362/EEC and 86/363/EEC on the fixing of maximum levels for pesticide residues in and on cereals and foodstuffs of animal origin. L 197, 22.8.95.

Commission Regulation (EC) No 1870/95 of 26 July 1995 amending Regulation (EEC) no 334/93 laying down detailed implementing rules for the use of land set aside for the provision of materials for the manufacture within the Community of products not primarily intended for human or animal consumption and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 2595/93 laying down detailed rules for implementing Council Regulation (EEC) No 1765/92 as regards the use of land set aside for the production of multiannual raw material for the manufacture within the Community of products not intended for human or animal consumption. L 179, 29.7.95.

Commission Regulation (EC) 1904/95 of 1 August 1995 authorising the payment in advance to producers in certain regions of compensatory payments for the 1995/96 marketing year for cereals, protein crops and linseed as well as compensation of compulsory set-aside.

Commission Regulation (EC) No. 2930/95 of 18 December 1995 amending Regulation (EC) No. 762/94 laying down detailed rules for the application of Council Regulation (EEC) No. 1765/92 with regard to the set-aside scheme.

Council Regulation (EC) No 2336/95 of 26 September 1995 derogating from regulation (EEC) No 1765/92 establishing a support system for producers of certain arable crops as regards the set-aside requirement for the 1996/97 marketing year. L 236, 5.10.95.

Commission Recommendation 96/199/EC of 1 March 1996 concerning a coordinated programme of inspection in 1996 to ensure compliance with maximum levels of pesticide residues in and on certain products of plant origin, including fruit and vegetables. L 64, 14.3.96.

Commission Directive 96/12/EC of 8 March 1996 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market.

COUNCIL Regulation of 14 June 1993 fixing the non-rotational set-aside rate referred to in Article 7 of Regulation (EEC) No. 1765/92

COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No. 746/96 of 24 April 1996 laying down detailed rules for the application of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2078/92 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside.

Directive 97/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 1997 amending Directive 79/112/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs. L 43, 14.2.97.

DIRECTIVE 97/6/EC bans the use of the antimicrobial antibiotic, Avoparcin, in pig, cattle and poultry feed. Requires that Member States implement the ban from 1 April, 1997.

REGULATION 17/97 on the maximum residue limits of veterinary medicinal products in foodstuffs of animal origin. Amends Regulation (EEC) No. 2377/90 to include veterinary medicinal products such as eprimomectin, zinc acetate, glycerol formal and somatosalm.

Commission Regulation (EC) No 435/97 of 6 March 1997 amending Commission Regulation (EC) No 746/96 laying down detailed rules for the application of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2078/92 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside. L 67, 7.3.97.

Commission Regulation (EC) No 727/97 of 24 April 1997 establishing a list of products excluded from the application of Council Regulation (EEC) No 737/90 on the conditions governing imports of agricultural products originating in third countries following the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. L 108, 25.4.97.

 

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