The long-awaited Green Paper on Sustainable Phosphorus, expected to set out proposals for new EU policy to promote phosphorus management and reuse, remains blocked within the European Commission. Meanwhile, a group of Member States, research institutions and businesses (so-called “frontrunners”) mobilized this month to convene the European Sustainable Phosphorus Conference, aiming to build political momentum and raise awareness.

This process, which has resulted in the creation of a European Phosphorous Platform, is largely composed of business interests, governments, and scientists from Northern and Western Europe, and yet has to demonstrate buy-in from Eastern European countries. While the effort of such “frontrunners” should be credited, it remains vital to ensure a broad European approach, to avoid repeating past mistakes, where environmental and agricultural policy was modelled on certain Member States at the expense of others.

Under the Baltic COMPASS project, SEI, together with the Latvian Farmers’ Parliament and the Belarus Central Research Institute for Complex Use of Water Resources (CRICUWR), convened a roundtable session at last month’s conference to explore how innovations in phosphorus reuse can be adapted to the diversity of farming systems in Europe, and to promote regional cooperation.

At the session, entitled Lessons from the Neman River Basin: a Baltic Sea case study, lessons were presented from a recent study from the Neman river basin, spanning Lithuania, Poland and Belarus, which demonstrates the issues faced in managing the expansion of pig farms – driven in part by relocation from Northwest Europe. Results were also shared from an informal regional pre-consultation for the EU Green Paper on Sustainable Phosphorus.

These are some of the proposals emerging from the round table session:

  • The current animal distribution, and the associated excess of manure (and thus phosphorus), is partly explained by the impact of direct payments under the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Historically more productive regions have received larger entitlements, enabling them to further concentrate animal production. Much could be achieved by redistributing animal production between countries and regions; this could be partly accomplished by leveling the entitlements and/or removing direct payments.
  • Focus on novel and expensive new technologies for phosphorus reuse are generally tailored to countries with intensive animal production. However, in Member States with small-scale farming systems, simple and reliable manure handling methods are needed.
  • EU funding instruments should prioritize technical applications that are cost-effective in small-scale farming and foster research that focuses on this goal.

Read a Baltic COMPASS paper based on the regional consultation on the EU Green Paper (PDF, 630kb) »