Balance of Competences: Agriculture

As part of the wider review being conducted on the Balance of Competences between the UK and the EU, Defra are conducting a call for evidence on the topic of agriculture. By reviewing the evidence gathered through this public consultation, the Government aims to deepen public and parliamentary understanding of the nature of our EU membership and form a position for potentially re-negotiating the balance of certain powers in our relationship with the EU. The Balance of Competence dictates a member state’s power to legislate, and this current review is the first time any member state has attempted such an extensive assessment of what EU membership actually means.

The consultation document released last week covers a number of topics including:

  • the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
  • forestry
  • plant health and plant reproductive materials
  • international trade in agricultural commodities

The CAP is the overarching agricultural policy of the European Union and takes up 36% of the EU budget. It implements a system of agricultural subsidies and other programmes and has recently under gone reform which this consultation considers.   There are key ecological elements of this reform related to rural development including, “fostering knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture, forestry, and rural areas” and “restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry”.

In recent years climate change, population growth, disease and the increasing pressures on the land have put the health of our trees and forests at the forefront of science policy. Forestry is one of the few areas where national competence is retained, with most member states repeatedly rejecting the suggestion that forestry competence should be passed to the EU. There is an increasing risk to UK biosecurity resulting from the free trade in plant products across the EU, and plant health is becoming ever more relevant to UK environmental policy.

Earlier this year the BES responded to the Call for Evidence on the Balance of Competences for Environment and Climate Change. We will now be generating a response to this consultation, and welcome your input. Our response will focus on answering those questions most relevant to ecology, which include questions 1-5, 12, 13 and 15. These questions cover areas such as whether the EU approach to agriculture and forestry is either beneficial or detrimental to the UK national interest, UK biosecurity in relation to free trade in plant products, whether more or less EU level control would hinder the competitive food and farming sector, and whether the current balance of power in the EU is equipped to address future challenges and opportunities. We are also interested in considering the capacity of the CAP to help/hinder the delivery of rural economic growth and increased agricultural productivity alongside environmental improvement.

As such, we would like to invite our members to contribute feedback in relation to the questions we will be responding to. If you would like to have the opportunity to do so, you can email us. It is important that any feedback you provide is evidence based e.g. use published research, but where this is not possible please use and describe your knowledge/experience. Whilst the Balance of the Competences review is based at a UK level, this does not mean you cannot give evidence at the devolved administration level. We will be taking feedback from members until the 20th November.