Poland has a chance to clean up the Baltic Sea
While the final shape of the EU's future budget and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will not be decided in the next six months, we – the chief executives of WWF and partner organisations around the Baltic Sea – believe that, during its presidency of the EU's Council of Ministers, Poland has a significant opportunity to develop a better agricultural policy and one that helps the Baltic Sea (special report on the Polish presidency, 23-29 June).
At the height of summer, when people expect to enjoy the pleasures of living close to the sea, the surface waters of the Baltic Sea are covered by algal blooms. On the sea floor, vast dead zones will cover an even larger area than last year. Holiday-makers may not be aware of it, but more than half of the nutrients that cause this devastation are produced by agriculture in the region.
As citizens and taxpayers in countries around the Baltic Sea, each of us is paying a substantial amount to support the agricultural sector. Each taxpayer around the Baltic Sea contributes on average €191 per year to European farm subsidies.
The current European agricultural policy, with direct payments that are primarily distributed according to farm size, promotes a highly intensive and industrialised agriculture sector. The result is increased pollution, loss of biodiversity and each year an aggravated eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. Only a small portion is currently invested in programmes with clear environmental objectives. The proposal that has now been presented by the European Commission would not increase this proportion. The proposed ‘greening' of the direct payments is necessary but will not compensate for a reduced rural development fund.
We believe that taxpayers would be willing to support farmers, if they saw that subsidies led to the production of shared benefits, such as a clean environment, beautiful and thriving rural landscapes, and a living Baltic Sea. If we use this enormous amount of money to reach agreed environmental, social and economic objectives, instead of leaving it locked into a system of environmentally harmful subsidies, we could both save the Baltic Sea and make better use of taxpayers' money.
A modern and effective agricultural policy should be built on three basic principles:
Public payments for public goods: Most goods and services that are produced by farmers can be fully paid for by the market. But there are some public benefits that will not be paid for that way, and must therefore be paid for collectively. These benefits include environmental functions such as sustainable water management, the preservation of biodiversity and the maintenance of valued cultural and historic landscapes; as well as some non-environmental benefits, such as public access and enjoyment, rural employment and the socio-economic viability of rural areas.
Payments linked to clear objectives and targets: No subsidies should be provided without a clear definition of what that specific subsidy is intended to provide. There should always be a thorough evaluation of how effectively each subsidy is delivering sustainability objectives.
Fair and transparent distribution of funding: The existing division between agriculture in old and new member states must be abandoned. The distribution of funds should be a question of where benefits are being provided to European society, rather than based on historical entitlements. Farmers who contribute public goods should receive the same relative amount of compensation, only adjusted for differences in purchasing power, regardless of which part of Europe they operate in.
We hope that Poland is willing to work for an agricultural policy that supports farming in the region but also reflects citizens' and tax-payers' legitimate right to get ‘value for money' in the form of production of public goods.
The Polish presidency of the Council of Ministers is an opportunity to develop an agricultural policy with public legitimacy. The people of the Baltic Sea region want a clean sea without excess nutrients and algae blooms. Poland has a chance to take a big step in that direction.
CEO, Estonian Fund for Nature
CEO, Lithuanian Fund for Nature
CEO, Pasaules Dabas Fonds
CEO, WWF Denmark
CEO, WWF Finland
CEO, WWF Germany
CEO, WWF Poland
CEO, WWF Sweden