BRUSSELS, March 18 (UPI) -- Farm policy reforms approved by the European Parliament have endorsed efforts to tie 30 percent of farmers' direct subsidies to "greening" techniques.
Thursday's vote by the European Parliament in a plenary session turned back bids by farming groups to effectively end the efforts of EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos to implement the "greening" of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy but it didn't go far enough for environmentalists.
They and other ag reform campaigners were hoping the parliament would opt to tie a majority of the $76 billion in annual EU farm subsidies to the greening measures, which include crop diversification, maintaining permanent pasture and grassland and creating "ecologically focused areas" to help the survival of wildlife.
Rejecting warnings from the European farming trade group Copa that the greening requirements would add costly burdens and threaten the competitiveness and economic viability of EU farmers, MEPs opted to keep the 30 percent requirement in the bill, with certain exceptions, for instance, to reflect the size of the farm.
"Today we have struck a proper balance between food security and improved environmental protection, so that the new EU farm policy can deliver even more public goods to EU citizens," Agriculture Committee Chairman Paolo De Castro said.
The vote -- the first with the European Parliament as a full member of CAP decision-making process -- also backed commission plans to cap direct payments to any one farm at $391,000 and substantially reduce payments to those receiving more than $196,000.
"The European Parliament has supported the main principles of the commission proposals, notably on the capping of payments, the greening of 30 percent of direct payments and a rural development policy more adapted to the diversity of local specificities," Ciolos said.
But other greening measures sought by environmentalists were delayed or watered down.
They had called for 10 percent of farmland to be reserved for wildlife through subsidies, but MEPs opted for a figure starting at 3 percent, then gradually increasing to 5 percent and perhaps to 7 percent, the BBC reported.
The final shape of the new EU farm policy will be decided by the Parliament, EU farm ministers and the European Commission in three way "trilogue" negotiations, which are to begin in late March or early April.
Disappointed reform backers called the vote a missed opportunity to help preserve wildlife and change the direction of European agriculture away from "factory farming" and monoculture, in which a single crop dominates wide swathes of land over periods of many years.
"MEPs have voted for the CAP to plow ahead unsustainably, with an outcome that is even worse for the environment than and just as unfair as, the current model," Green MEP and co-chairman of the EP's agriculture committee Jose Bove said.
"MEPs have utterly failed to seize an historic opportunity to overhaul EU agricultural policy and make the CAP fit for the 21st century. The fact that this is the first time parliament has had a say on the CAP as a co-decider makes today's outcome even more regrettable."