Research Handbook on EU Agriculture Law
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Research Handbook on EU Agriculture Law

Edited by Joseph A. McMahon and Michael N. Cardwell

Following the conclusion of the latest round of reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2013, the Research Handbook on EU Agriculture Law provides an up-to-date discussion of these reforms and the changing landscape in which the CAP now operates.
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Chapter 5: Agricultural multifunctionality, working lands and public goods: Contested models of agri-environmental governance under the Common Agricultural Policy

Clive Potter


The idea that farmers deserve support because they are farmers was never likely to be defensible as a long-term justification for state support. From the earliest days of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), policymakers have grafted a range of public good and social equity justifications onto already existing rationales for offering Europe’s farmers state assistance. It was not until the mid-1980s, however, that a specifically environmental rationale began to emerge. Mounting evidence at that time that agricultural intensification was depleting biodiversity, eroding soils and polluting habitats led some to question the conventional wisdom that simply farming the land would guarantee its protection. The result was the invention of a new domain of ‘agri-environmental policy’ (AEP), designed (in theory, at least) to enable state payments to be used to pay more explicitly for the environmental services farmers provide. In practice, Member States have chosen to adopt different approaches to AEP by setting up payment schemes which target farmers, land and outputs to varying extents. Since that time we have seen the idea of agricultural stewardship and multifunctionality established in the European Union (EU) as central policy ideas, simultaneously justifying quite significant expenditures of public money in order to support farming as a beneficial land use in its own right but also to incentivize environmental benefit streams through more targeted, decoupled, payments.

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