On 12 November 2020, Portuguese Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Sandra Pereira of The Left group in the European Parliament – GUE/NGL posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:
“At a meeting of Portuguese associations for the protection of the heritage, I was told about the all too frequent destruction of archaeological heritage for the exploitation of agricultural land. For example, it has recently been reported that a Neolithic dolmen at Torre de Coelheiros in Évora was intentionally destroyed by its owners for the purposes of intensive almond production in the area. Sociedade Agrícola M. Amêndoas, Unipessoal Lda., the landowner, was informed in advance that the archaeological site was protected by the Évora Municipal Master Plan, but nevertheless proceeded to destroy the monument.
Can the Commission say:
1. Has this agricultural company received any kind of European funding and, if so, are there any plans to suspend funding for companies that destroy heritage sites?
2. Are preliminary environmental impact studies or research into the existence of archaeological heritage included in the conditions for accessing Community funding? Alternatively, is there a mechanism to verify that, on land subsidised by European funding for intensive farming, there are no archaeological monuments or heritage sites, nor have any crimes of an environmental nature been committed?
3. Does the Commission consider that heritage and landscape protection policies take precedence over profits generated by agribusiness and, as such, is it willing to impose the above-mentioned conditions?”
On 28 January 2021, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski responded on behalf of the European Commission stating:
“1. In accordance with the EU legislation and in order to ensure transparency, Member States have to publish the list of beneficiaries of the common agricultural policy (CAP). The website of the Portuguese paying agency can be consulted. Since this publication is under the competence of the national authorities, corresponding queries should be addressed to them.
2-3. Without prejudice to any specific national legislation regarding the environment or protected historical sites and its enforcement, the Commission would like to stress that the CAP legal framework covers a number of specific requirements that beneficiaries receiving EU financial support have to comply with.
The Commission regards the safeguarding of all forms of cultural heritage of the utmost importance. However, in accordance with Article 167 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the protection, conservation and renovation of cultural heritage sites are primarily a national responsibility.
Under cross-compliance, the standard of good agricultural and environmental conditions, GAEC 7, requires beneficiaries to ensure the maintenance of the landscape features, with the objective of contributing to biodiversity.
For the definition of the GAEC, Member States are to adopt national requirements taking account of the specific characteristics of the areas concerned, e.g. soil and climatic conditions. Therefore, Member States have the possibility to address their local needs by defining national provisions set up under the EU rules. In particular, for GAEC 7, Member States have the flexibility of defining landscape features to be protected, including historical/cultural sites.”
Photo Credit : https://pixabay.com/photos/almendres-stone-cromlech-2490104/