Roughly 40% of the total EU budget is used for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Approximately 40% of the European land surface is used for agriculture and 80% of the land is defined as rural area. The rural area of Europe is challenged continuously. Enlargement with new member states, forthcoming WTO negotiations, introduction of novel agro-technologies, changing societal demands and climate change, for instance, all interact in a complex way.
Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 the integration of sustainability with agriculture has been a major item on the EU policy agenda. More than ever before, adequate agricultural and environmental policies at EU, national and regional scale are needed that can facilitate agriculture’s contribution to sustainable development. Ex-ante assessment of new policies (i.e. assessment before their introduction) is essential to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency.
Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of new policies and innovations prior to their introduction, i.e., ‘ex-ante integrated assessment’, is vital to target policy development for sustainable development. The European Commission has introduced Impact Assessment of its policies as an essential step in the development and introduction of new policies since 2003 (EC, 2002; EC, 2005). It is anticipated to contribute to a more coherent implementation of the European strategy for Sustainable Development (EC, 2001). Impact Assessment identifies the likely positive and negative impacts of proposed policy actions, enabling informed political judgements to be made about the proposed policies and identify trade-offs in achieving competing objectives. By nature it implies a demand for multi- and interdisciplinary research and tools, which allow inclusion and evaluation of views of different stakeholders.
Integrated capacities to assess a broad range of policies at all relevant scales (from field to globe) and in environmental, economic and social terms are not available. SEAMLESS aims at filling this gap.
Example policy questions at stake
What are the likely questions of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms on agricultural systems in the new EU member states, on rural employment, and on landscape and environment?
What alternative policies can be developed to enhance the role of agriculture in energy production and carbon sequestration with regard to the international agreements on reduced emission of greenhouse gasses?
WTO negotiations on agricultural trade liberalization will affect the European dairy sector and the African fibre sector – what could be the consequence of alternative outcomes of these negotiations on specific farming systems in Europe and in less-developed countries?
Does multifunctional agriculture stimulate sustainable development in rural areas? Which beneficial effects may be anticipated at the regional scale?
Such issues would benefit from ex-ante integrated assessment and scientific tools that are vital to test the contribution of agricultural and environmental policies and innovations to sustainable development.