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The horizontal integration of sectoral policies, such as environmental, agricultural or those relating to rural development, is one of the most important future challenges towards sustainable agriculture and sustainable development in the European Union. Several European Councils reaffirmed the commitments to consider the environmental concern in all Community policies and invited all relevant institutions to develop adequate strategies. In COM (1999) 22 "Directions towards Sustainable Agriculture" (EC 1999) the European Commission acknowledges the pressure agriculture places on the environment due to technological developments and commercial considerations, which have given rise to a market intensification in the last 40 years.

Moreover, the role of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as one of the major drivers contributing to the intensification is recognised. However, the European Commission recognises also the environmental significance of agriculture and outlines "the fundamental basis for the European Agricultural model, comprising a multifunctional agriculture sector and the part it plays in the economy and the environment, in society and in preserving the landscape" (Agenda 2000). Within the development towards sustainable and multifunctional agriculture, particular importance is given to the development of agri-environmental indicators.

Rice fields in Piemonte, Italy - © 2002, M.L.Paracchini

As outlined in COM (2000) 20 "Indicators for the Integration of Environmental Concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy" the indicators can help to provide information for decision-makers and the general public. They allow us: to identify the key agri-environmental issues that are of concern in Europe today; to understand, monitor and evaluate the relationship between agricultural practices and their beneficial and harmful environmental effects; to assess the extent to which agricultural policies respond to the need to promote environmentally friendly agriculture and to communicate this to policymakers and the wider public; and to map and to monitor the diversity of agri-ecosystems in the European Union and Candidate Countries. This has particular relevance in explaining to the EU's trading partners the specificity of the farmed environment in Europe.

These requirements call for major scientific efforts on a European level, in which both interdisciplinary research and coverage of all Europe, including the accession countries, are included to develop a sound basis for future land development strategies in order to improve the quality of life, maintain the public good and ensure sustainable development.

Terraces in Sicily - © 1997, M.L.Paracchini


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