‘Not appropriate for addressing environmental concerns’: EU Court of Auditors calls for greener agri policy

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Greenpeace says EC policy bankrolls industrial farms ©iStock/Droits d'auteur Leonid Eremeychuk
Greenpeace says EC policy bankrolls industrial farms ©iStock/Droits d'auteur Leonid Eremeychuk
Plans for the next Common Agricultural Policy should be “greener, rigorously performance-based and more accountable”, say EU auditors.

The proposed reform of the CAP post-2020 falls short of the EU’s ambitions for the promotion of more environmentally friendly food and agriculture system, according to an opinion published by the European Court of Auditors, the EU’s financial watchdog.

When the European Commission detailed its proposal for the new CAP after 2020, it stressed that environment and climate objectives would be a high priority. However, these ambitions are not clearly defined or translated into quantified targets. This translates to a lack of accountability with no provision for measuring, assessment and reporting mechanisms, the opinion suggested.

“It remains unclear how a greener CAP could be assessed or measured,”​ according to the opinion, which was penned by João Figueiredo, a member of the European Court of Auditors.

In addition, the Commission’s estimate of the CAP’s contribution to EU climate change objectives “appears unrealistic”​, Figueiredo claimed.

All talk, no action?

The opinion noted that many of the proposed policy options are very similar to the current CAP. In particular, the largest part of the budget would continue to be direct payments to farmers, based on a given amount of hectares of land owned or used.

This instrument is not appropriate for addressing many environmental concerns, nor is it the most efficient way of supporting viable income,”​ the auditors believe.

There are also some “key changes”​ in the way that policy would be put into practice.

“There is a shift from an emphasis on compliance towards a focus on performance, which the auditors welcome. However, they consider that the proposal does not contain the necessary elements of an effective performance system.

“The new CAP would need more incentives for performance and objectives that are clearly linked to outputs, results and impacts.”

Another change is the redefinition of EU eligibility for CAP payments - given the “limitations​” of the proposed model, this is likely to lead to a weakened assurance framework. There will be fewer and less effective checks and audits, the auditors point out.

“The move towards a performance-based assessment would not remove the need to check legality and regularity”, Figueiredo commented.

“We fear that a legal provision stating that only a very small part of expenditure needs to be effected in accordance with Union rules could make these rules meaningless and might undermine the application of EU law.”

The auditors also underline the lack of a robust external system of control. Under the proposal, the Commission would receive neither control statistics from paying agencies, nor assurance on payments to individual farmers from certification bodies. This could result in weakening Commission accountability, the auditors warned.

Additionally, proposals will make it harder to apply a single audit approach, notably because of the reduced role for certification bodies, they added.

‘Green spin’ on farming policy

Greenpeace accused EC Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan of attempting to place a “green spin​” on an agricultural policy that will do little to protect the environment or cut emissions.

The Court of Auditors has seen straight through Hogan’s green spin on farming policy,”​ Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said.

Contiero argued that the revised CAP continues to favour large-scale farming operations and industrial agriculture. “The Commission wants to continue to bankroll farms based purely on their size, regardless of the environmental impact.

“EU payments should reward farmers who preserve the air, soil, water, climate and wildlife we all depend on, not bankroll factory farms and wealthy landowners. Without strong, common environmental criteria for this funding, the EU risks paying for a race to the bottom in European farming.”

Row over CAP cuts

The European Parliament’s agriculture and environment committees will begin discussing their proposed amendments to the Commission’s draft CAP in the coming weeks. They are expected to vote on them in February 2019. These discussions will take place in the context over a row over cuts to the CAP budget, which have been staunchly opposed by farming lobbies. 

Hogan unveiled the 2021-27 CAP proposals in May, including a planned 5% drop in the CAP budget.

The total CAP budget for 2021-27, adjusted for inflation, will be about €365bn versus the existing budget (excluding the UK) of €382.5bn in 2014-20.

The proposal was met with fierce opposition from farming groups such as France’s FNSEA, which described the EC proposal as “unacceptable”​.

“This is a huge disappointment for the Europeans and for farmers,”​ the farming union said in a statement.

To offset this drop in agricultural spending, Hogan also revealed plans to invest €10bn in supporting agri-food research and innovation under its framework programme Project Horizon, 2021-27.

“Continued investment in support of science, research and innovation will contribute to the development of a more productive and sustainable EU agriculture and food sector,”​ Hogan insisted.

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