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The introduction of the REFIT programme – the European Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme – and the Juncker Commission’s commitment to ‘Smarter and Better Regulation’ has been welcomed by many; but what does better regulation mean in practice?

There is often misunderstanding or a lack of clarity as to what exactly better regulation means. Put simply, it is not about arbitrary reduction in legislation, but about providing a clear, stable and predictable regulatory framework – one that is effective and efficient. However, if we look at the recent public consultation on the possible REFIT of the Birds and Habitats Directives, high profile campaigning from NGO lobby groups delivered a huge response to the Commission with a loud call to leave the ‘Nature Directives’ untouched. Some NGOs would rather improvement of environmental management on the ground via other policy areas, including calls for further improvement of, or further ‘greening’ of the Common Agricultural Policy.

It is indeed important to ensure adequate environmental protection across all policy areas and the REFIT process should help, not hinder this, but care must be taken to avoid simply moving the target. Safeguarding one piece of legislation whilst seeking compensation in another is not an elegant solution – it simply passes along the problem with no net improvement in ‘regulatory fitness’.

In this context, the demands that will be placed upon European farmers over the next decades cannot be ignored. Food production will need to be increased by around 70% to satisfy population growth (a staggering 2.3 billion more people between 2009 and 2050) and it will be up to farmers to achieve this on more-or-less the same land base whilst making ever more efficient (and sustainable!) use of natural resources. This is no small challenge and one that will require smart regulation that includes a sustainable balance between environmental protection goals and productivity targets.

Innovation is at the heart of this and will underpin the delivery of smarter regulation. The sustainability challenge requires that we exploit today’s proven technologies whilst we continue to invest in research and development for tomorrow’s solutions. Technological development and the promise that it holds should afford us a certain amount of optimism – but innovation requires investment and its products require a market. It is particularly reassuring to note that Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has championed innovation from the beginning of his mandate, however a problem of this magnitude will not be solved by one part of the Commission alone.

If Europe would benefit from more, less or different environmental regulation is a question to which there is no straightforward answer. Policy decisions taken with a view of impact limited to only one area often offer incomplete and short-sighted solutions which may address a problem today, leave other problems remaining or create new problems for tomorrow. In areas such as environmental regulation we are looking to safeguard a planet for future generations, and this requires bold thinking. There is no panacea. Our industry provides some of the solutions – and we are already part of the conversation.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – Susanne Nilsson