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Brussels, 29 March 2007

CAP simplification: Commission moves to improve Cross Compliance system

The European Commission today proposed a raft of measures to improve and simplify the system of Cross Compliance, which formed a key element of the 2003 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. The changes aim, among other things, to improve information, introduce a certain level of tolerance in minor cases of non-compliance, harmonise control rates and introduce advance notice of certain on-farm checks. This proposal does not water down the concept of Cross Compliance, but takes into account experience gained so far to make the system work better for the benefit of farmers and administrations. It forms the latest stage in the Commission's ongoing efforts to simplify the CAP. Cross Compliance means that farmers have to respect a set of standards to avoid cuts in payments from the European Union. These cover protection of the environment, public, animal and plant health, animal welfare and the maintenance of the land in good agricultural and environmental condition. Cross Compliance has the dual aims of helping to make farming more sustainable and making the CAP more compatible with the expectations of consumers and taxpayers.

"Cross Compliance is a central part of our reformed CAP," said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. "Direct payments will only be acceptable to the public if people can see that our farmers are being rewarded for carrying out vital tasks in the countryside. I am well aware that many farmers are very unhappy with Cross Compliance. But it is right and it is necessary and it is here to stay. However, this does not mean that we cannot make changes to make it work more effectively."

Cross Compliance was a major component of the 2003 CAP reforms. It includes the possibility to reduce, either fully or partially, the direct payments to the farmer if the standards are not respected. It is made up of two components, the "statutory management requirements" (SMRs) and "good agricultural and environmental condition" (GAEC). The SMRs are made up of 19 laws, while Member States have to define minimum standards for GAEC based on an EU framework.

In 2005, 240,898 on-the-spot checks were carried out on 4.92 percent of farmers affected by Cross Compliance. Reductions in payments were applied for 11.9 percent of farmers subject to on-the-spot checks. Most detected cases of non-compliance related to the identification and registration of cattle, with the remaining cases mostly concerning the GAEC and the Nitrates Directive.

The Commission has already issued seven guidance documents since 2005 to help the Member States and has encouraged sharing of best practice. It will continue to encourage such discussions in the future. However, a number of specific practical measures can also be proposed to simplify the operation of the system:

Specific improvements

  • Member States should be allowed not to pursue cases of non-compliance which would not trigger the minimum reduction. However, a warning letter should still be sent to the farmer concerned and follow-up ensured.
  • It is also proposed to establish a de minimis rule to exempt from reductions any penalty falling below €50. A warning letter would be sent and follow-up ensured also in this case.
  • The Commission intends to introduce a single control rate, of 1 percent minimum, for on-the-spot checks for Cross Compliance.
  • In cases where checks have revealed a significant degree of non-compliance, checks are increased. In future, this increase should focus only on the areas of risk and not on all standards, as is currently the case.
  • The Commission will create the possibility to give notice of checks up to 14 days in advance as long as the purpose of the controls is not jeopardised. Controls on feed and food law, animal health and animal welfare and identification and registration of animals will remain unannounced.
  • National authorities will be required to identify the optimal time of year to check most of the obligations, while ensuring that no obligation is ignored in the control system.
  • Checks need only be made on half of the land parcels, rather than the whole farm.
  • Farmers must receive the control report at the latest three months after the checks.
  • There will be an improved selection of the control sample, including a random element.
  • The Commission will clarify the information the Member States are required to provide to farmers.
  • It is proposed to simplify the so-called "10-month rule", which obliges farmers to keep at their disposal for 10 months any land parcels declared to activate the single payment scheme.
  • New Member States which apply the SAPS scheme of direct aid will have to implement the SMRs from 2009. It is proposed to allow a three-year phasing-in period for this. For Bulgaria and Romania, this phase-in period would begin in 2012.

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