Farming in mountainous areas is practised in difficult conditions but plays a key role in preserving the environment and biodiversity. It therefore requires a special strategy, says an own-initiative report adopted by Parliament. Agriculture in upland areas, which are home to nearly 20% of Europe's population, currently faces high production costs as well as transport and communication problems.Dairy farming in particular is in a critical situation. However, these areas also have features and potential advantages that need to be protected, such as high quality traditional food produce, sustainable forest management and attractiveness to tourists.
"There are as many different legal frameworks for Europe's mountain areas as there are Member States in the European Union itself", according to MEP Michl Ebner (EPP-ED, IT), whose report was adopted by 487 votes in favour and73 against. "What is required is a sensible framework that combines regulations and assistance in the best possible way to assist Europe's mountain regions in their efforts to achieve sustainable and forward-looking competitiveness", he believes.
The EP report urges the Commission to devise within six months an integrated EU strategy for the sustainable development and use of resources in mountain areas, with national action programmes involving regional authorities and civil society. The importance of demarcating mountain areas as a first step is emphasised. The report also suggests that rural development and structural assistance be combined.
Among its detailed proposals, Parliament calls for:
- greater account to be taken of the multifunctionality of hill farming in future CAP reforms, for example by compensating hill farmers for the environmental benefits they generate;
- compensatory payments for mountain areas to be guaranteed in the long term;
- greater support for producer associations, farming cooperatives and other intersectoral partnerships, such as Leader-groups;
- special financial assistance for the dairy sector (dairy farmers and processors) and special payments to reduce any negative impact of the disappearance of quotas;
- the introduction of additional per-hectare payments for organic farming and extensive grazing, and continuation of grass premiums;
- measures to protect and promote high-quality regional and traditional products or their manufacturing procedures and their certification;
- a fund for disadvantaged areas (making use of unutilised second-pillar funding);
- special targeted financial assistance for mountain areas via the "Article 69 mechanism" (now Article 68 under the CAP health check),
- extra support for young farmers,
- the establishment of repositories of indigenous genetic material from animal and plant species, particularly farm animals and mountain flora, to preserve biodiversity.