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European land tenure tools

Countries joining the EU are obliged to put in place three tools that are of considerable value in collecting data about land tenure: the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN), the survey of the structure of agricultural holdings or agricultural census and the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) for the payment of agricultural subsidies. It is important to note that none of the three tools is specifically concerned with land tenure data. Rather, land tenure data are collected as a by-product of collecting other information about agricultural production for use in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Both FADN and the agricultural census collect data about the amount of the UAA that is under owner-occupation, tenanted or sharecropped. They collect information at the level of the agricultural holding. IACS can provide the link between agricultural data and parcels of farmland, because it provides area and location data for the parcels. The information generated by these three tools can also be used in other contexts than the CAP, including the monitoring of land tenure trends and the development of land tenure policy.

In 2003, in what the Commission has described as the most radical change since the policy was founded in 1958, the CAP became a device by which agricultural subsidies are paid primarily on specific pieces of land rather than being in return for agricultural production. Direct payments are now made to farmers, with subsidies for production largely disappearing. These payments are conditional on compliance with animal and plant health, environmental and food safety standards, and on keeping farmland in good condition for farming and the preservation of the countryside. The development of the CAP reflects a change in priorities from the need to maintain production and secure food supplies to a desire for production to be safe and environmentally sustainable.

The future of the CAP has come under discussion as a result of pressures both from within and outside the EU. The enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 members in 2004 included new members with a greater reliance on agriculture and with lower per capita incomes, and raised questions about future budgets and who would benefit from future aid to agriculture. In addition, the related questions of agricultural protectionism and export subsidies have been important factors in the G8 discussions about world poverty and in the World Trade Organization's Doha Round of tariff reductions. All these discussions have raised fundamental questions about the future of the CAP, which, in turn, raises questions about the future of the tools used to support it.

A number of Member States meet their obligations to supply data to FADN and the agricultural census using instruments that predate the CAP. This would suggest that the instruments are robust and versatile, and would continue to be used by governments even if there was no CAP. Information about the economic viability of agriculture, productivity, farm structures and land tenure is of considerable value to governments in staying informed about agricultural conditions and formulating agricultural, environmental and rural development policies. Governments also need to undertake spatial planning in rural areas. They need a system that identifies farmland parcels and the activities being carried out on them, which IACS does. Therefore, the future of these instruments is not directly bound up with that of the CAP. The governments’ need for the information generated by these instruments will remain whether or not there is a CAP and regardless of what form it takes in the future.

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