Much Ado About Decoupling: Evaluating the Environmental Impact of Recent European Union Agricultural Reform

42 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2007


The overall purpose of this Note is to fully evaluate the June 2003 reforms to the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which have been hailed as revolutionary. My overall thesis is that while the 2003 reforms are significant, most of the change thus far has been purely ideological. As a result, additional efforts will be necessary to fully alleviate the environmental damages associated with fifty years of ill-considered European Union agricultural policy.

In my Note, I first address the environmental harms caused by direct producer support, or those payments to farmers encouraging production in select commodities. Such payments distort market signals and give farmers incentive to overproduce in these areas in far excess of market demand. The environmental impacts of this policy have been appalling as even the most marginal land, not suitable for cropping under a market system, has been thrust into production under this "coupled" system. As a result, the benign farming techniques of the past have been abandoned and sensitive habitat has been destroyed in an effort to obtain farm subsidy payments.

My Note evaluates the 2003 reforms, uses the United Kingdom as an example of a nation focused on promoting reform, and concludes by examining the beginnings of a shift toward rural development as the focus on European agricultural policy and the potential environmental gains that could be obtained through a widespread adoption of these principles or objectives. Rural development, which the 2003 reforms seek to promote, could truly provide the revolutionary policy breakthrough sought by agricultural planners.

Keywords: Agricultural Law, Rural Development, European Union, Environmental Law, Land Stewardship, Green Payments

JEL Classification: K33, K32

Suggested Citation

Phelps, Jess R., Much Ado About Decoupling: Evaluating the Environmental Impact of Recent European Union Agricultural Reform. Harvard Environmental Law Review, Vol. 31, p. 279, 2007. Available at SSRN:

Jess R. Phelps (Contact Author)

The Lyme Timber Company LP ( email )

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