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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 24.07.2019, 08:09

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the Baltic Sea

Stefan Ewert, Dr., Research Assistant Greifswald University Germany, Baltic Rim Economy,, 18.01.2019.Print version
Since the 1970s, the protection of the ecosystem Baltic Sea is in the heart of the littoral states` regional cooperation. The marine ecosystem of the semi-enclosed Baltic Sea with its limited water exchange with the ocean and a high human population density in the water catchment area is highly vulnerable, only joint political efforts of all riparian states are effective in order to protect and improve the ecological status of the sea.

Marine environment protection became the policy field with the strongest level of regulations on Baltic Sea regional level. These collaborations showed success in different aspects and created spillover effects to other policy fields. For instance, regional cooperation were established in the field of education in order to disseminate the knowledge on marine environment and its preservation.


Nevertheless, regional cooperation in the field of agriculture policy remain scarce. However, a collaboration in this field is of utmost importance for the protection of the ecosystem Baltic Sea. As a lot of HELCOM reports and other research documents point out, the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea by agricultural nutrient input is one of the most urgent threats to the ecosystem of the Baltic Sea, leading not only to ecological, but to economic problems as well. The reduction of the input of the so called diffuse sources into the running waters of the Baltic Sea’s catchment area ought to be a pivotal aspect of a regional adjusted agricultural policy. Yet, the agricultural policy of the littoral states (except Russia) is dominated by the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and leaves little space for regional adjustments.


Currently, the general orientation of the CAP for the next funding period after 2020 is discussed widely on European level. The EU Commission made its legislative proposals in June 2018 which generated a wide range of responses from EU institutions, member states, agricultural and environmental associations, interest groups and researching institutions. At the moment, a certain degree of re-nationalization, i.e. the devolution of decision making and management scope to the member states in order to enhance flexibility and responsibility, is presumably. Independently from the crucial discussions and the fundamental differences in the positions, this tendency seems accepted widely. Following the plans of the EU Commission, each member state is supposed to create individual CAP strategic plans until the end of 2019.  

Thus, the EU member states of the Baltic Sea gain power in the field of agricultural policy. The endangered status of the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem and the high dependency of the littoral states’ economies on the marine ecosystem give strong arguments to use this gain of power in order to adjust the agricultural policy to the peculiarities of the Baltic Sea catchment area. A regional integrated agricultural policy is a way to reduce the nutrient input into the Baltic Sea and to stabilize so many different economic sectors like fishery, tourism or even blue biotechnology in this respect.

There are several possible starting points for such an integrated agricultural policy: The definition of riparian strips, the extensification of land uses in the river valleys or the conditions of animal husbandry, to name only few. Another promising measure is the expansion of the support of Paludiculture as wet agriculture. Looking at the structure of the middle- and eastern European catchment area of the Baltic Sea, most of the rivers in the coastal area flowing through river valley mires (e.g. percolation mires). A lot of these peatlands are drained and degraded, mainly for agricultural purposes. This is not only a problem on a global level due to the CO2- and N2O-emissions of drained peatlands and its impact on climate change. It is a problem on regional level as well because active peatlands function as filter for nutrients and reduce the nutrient input into the rivers. Via the rivers of the catchment area, the nutrients stemming from agriculture find their way into the ecosystem Baltic Sea.


 Paludiculture on peatlands is able to reduce this kind of nutrient input substantially. Paludiculture means the biomass production (e.g. reed, bulrush) under wet conditions, keeping the peatland active. The filter function of the peatland is retained on that way. Moreover, the crops extract nutrients like phosphate, the harvesting removes the nutrients from the ecosystem. New forms of raw material’s utilization (e.g. insulation boards from reed and bulrush) and smart biotechnology may become innovative clusters for regional development in the rural areas of the Baltic Sea Region. Thus, Paludiculture has the potential to combine the protection of the Baltic Sea’s marine environment and economic development. A smart, regional integrated agricultural policy creates positive spillovers for the whole region.

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