The Cork 2.0 event happened Monday and Tuesday of this week. This was a high-level EU Commission agri-food policy event.

It’s rare enough that a conference leads to anything profound. However, it’s fair to say that the original EU Commission’s Cork Rural Development Conference 20 years ago was seismic.

The ‘Cork Declaration’ of 1996 led to Pillar 2 of CAP. The Declaration “urged” Europe’s policy-makers:

* to raise public awareness about the importance of making a new start in rural development policy;

* to make rural areas more attractive to people to live and work in, and become centres of a more meaningful life for a growing diversity of people of all ages;

* to support this ten-point programme and co-operate as partners in the fulfilment of each and every one of the goals, which are embodied in this declaration.

* to play an active role in promoting sustainable rural development in an international context.

And from this came the (smaller) rural development Pillar, where amongst other things, organic farming supports have been derived.

The declaration outlined a ten-point plan, which focused on: Rural Preference; Integrated Approach; Diversification; Sustainability; Subsidiarity; Simplification; Programming; Finance; Management; Evaluation and finally Research.

The main areas in these ten points are as follows:

* Reversing rural out-migration.

* Be multi-disciplinary in concept.

* Support diversification of economic / social activity.

* Policies should promote rural development which sustains the quality and amenity of Europe’s rural landscapes (natural resources, biodiversity and cultural identity).

* Be as decentralised as possible.

* Radical simplification in legislation. Whilst there should be no renationalisation of the CAP, there must be greater coherence of what is presently done.

* Coherent and transparent procedures, and integrated into one programme for rural development.

* Use of local financial resources.

* Technical assistance, training, better communications, partnership and the sharing of research, information and exchange of experience through networking.

* Improved monitoring, evaluation and beneficiary assessment.

Somehow the creation of an entire new CAP Pillar emerged from an attempt to supposedly simplify. We still have unending talk of simplification, so it’s probably fair to say that that has not happened.

There is an inherent contradiction between subsidiarity and simplification — and re-nationalisation practically defines the CAP reform process in its final year, as well as the implementation since 2014. 

Each state seems to generate the exemptions it needs, as Faustine Defossez, senior policy officer for agriculture and bioenergy at the European Environmental Bureau, pointed out in this paper last Thursday.

Preventing out-migration and the landscape elements have also been failures.

On the success side of the sheet, to be fair, these failures may have been far worse without Pillar 2. 

This clearly does support diversification, LEADER has been a success, and Pillar 2 is very clearly more targeted and measured than Pillar 1. 

Measures like organic farming itself and, especially the very rare, but growing, results-based schemes are examples.

The jewel in the crown for this Declaration is, of course, the establishment of Pillar 2 itself, and the earmarking of hundreds of millions of Euros to rural development.

From an organic perspective, for Pillar 1 direct payments, since 2014, organic is considered “green by default” due to the “recognised environmental benefits of the organic farming systems.” 

This is a positive, though it does not develop or improve organic in any way.

And while recognised in both Pillars, being pigeonholed into Pillar 2 payments for years has created the perception that it’s, in a sense, not real farming. 

The proliferation of agri-environmental schemes, as well as the so-called greening of Pillar 1, have to an extent stolen organic’s clothes.

Organic farming, according to the most recent figures occupies about 6% of EU land but receives 1.5% of the EU’s agriculture budget (the proportion of the RD budget is 6.4%). Let’s wait to see if Cork 2.0 delivers for organic.


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