In its own-initiative report of 23 September 2008 on the situation and outlook for hill and mountain farming, the European Parliament called on the Commission 'to develop, within its remit, an integrated EU strategy for the sustainable development and use of resources in mountain areas (EU strategy for mountain areas) within six months of the adoption of this resolution'.
What is the Commission's position on this project? How will the Commission ensure that this strategy is integrated into future work programmes?
(EN) As the Commission has already stated in its reaction to the Honourable Member's report the Commission does not envisage proposing at this stage a specific and integrated strategy for mountain areas as suggested by this report(1)
However, this does not mean that the Commission will just doing business as usual with regard to the mountain farming.
There is evidence of a progressive withdrawal of agricultural management in some areas, particularly on permanent pasture and steeper slopes. Portugal and Italy are among those Member States where such marginalisation could lead to a cessation of agricultural activity.
We have to take these signals seriously. Without mountain farming not only families who over decades dedicated their lifes to this farming activity will loose their existence but also the impact on the broader economic activity in these regions will be devastating. In many of the mountain regions' farming is the backbone of the rural economy; if you take this out the existence of the whole region is under threaty. Take as an example tourism which needs the mountain farming.
Therefore, the Commission wants to have a closer look together with all interested parties like the Parliament and the Committee of the Regions but also the mountain farmers themselves into the policy framework for mountain farming currently in place. The Commission wants to assess the particular problems, new challenges and the potential for further developments – yes, further developments, because it is convinced that there is still a lot of potential for mountain farming in connection with tourism (production of quality products like cheeses on the farm, local and regional marketing strategies, wellness on the farm etc.).
Once, this is done we can check whether our policy responses are still sufficient and efficient enough. We have actually quite a tool box at our disposal: Direct payments under the first pillar, compensation payment for mountain areas classified as less favoured and agri-environmental payments; following the Health Check Member States are allowed to maintain some of the coupled support schemes in order to sustain economic activity in regions where other economic alternatives are few or do not exist; assistance to regions and sectors with special problems (so-called 'Article 68' measures) may be provided by Member States by retaining 10 percent of their national budget ceilings for direct payments and using these funds for environmental measures or improving the quality and marketing of agricultural products; in addition to the measures mentioned above, under the 2nd
pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) hill and mountain farming is supported through aid for forestry, processing and marketing, quality production, diversification (for example in the tourism sector or the implementation of local development strategies by mountain communities).
What we have to find out is whether this tool box delivers on the main objective which is to provide a sustainable future for our mountain farming and to strengthen this type of farming. If this is not the case, we have to find ways to adapt the policy framework.
What are now the next steps? On the 31st
of March 2009 in Brussels following an initiative of several mountain regions of the EU and tremendous personal efforts of some Honourable Member's of this Parliament we will establish the framework for our discussions. This will be followed up by a conference to be held in the beginning of July 2009 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen where we will present first results of the discussions.
It is important for the Commission that all interested parties play an active role in these discussions in order to get a clear and complete picture about the current situation and what kind of measures are needed for strengthening the mountain farming.