Ten environmental organisations say the Commission under José Manuel Barroso’s leadership has either been too reserved across an array of conservation issues, chemicals regulation and pollution, and in some cases has retreated in the face pressure from lobbyists and EU national governments.
“Overall, we’re extremely concerned that the Commission is very behind in the race to create a better environment in Europe,” said Jorgo Riss of Greenpeace, one of the 10 groups involving in grading the Commission at the halfway point in Barroso’s second term.
For instance, the executive’s plan for reshaping agriculture from 2014-2020 scores particularly poorly, says the mid-term assessment – ‘Off their game’.
“Agriculture is the most important delivery mechanism for biodiversity and resource efficiency,” said Tony Long of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), adding that the Commission’s proposals for the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have failed to make the link between farming, land management and biodiversity protection.
The report also says the Commission failed to strengthen the rural development pillar in its proposal that is now being reviewed by the Parliament and Council, “thus jeopardising one of the most useful parts of the CAP.”
CAP is the EU’s single largest programme, accounting for nearly 40% of the overall budget. For 2012, the programme is to cost €58.7 billion, with €40 billion going direct farm support and €14.6 billion set aside for rural development
Long, who heads WWF’s European policy office, called for doubling the amount of money proposed by Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş for rural development from 25% to 50% of the CAP’s Pillar 2 (Pillar 1 provides direct payments to farmers).
He urged the Commission to resist efforts by agricultural ministers and MEPs to replace mandatory environmental standards for farmers with an “à la carte” menu they could choose from in order to qualify for 'green' payments.
The report accused John Dalli, the health and consumer commissioner, of failing to be more aggressive in limiting pesticides and hormone-disrupting chemicals, and for his approval of a genetically modified potato despite strong opposition from ecologists and health activists.
More broadly, the report blasted the Commission for not achieving higher binding targets on energy efficiency and accused Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik for moving too slowly on pressing the Commission to reconsider the EU’s transport biofuels policies because of growing concern that they are not as environmentally benign as once thought.
A ‘superficial’ report
But one Commission spokesman called the report “superficial” and “contradictory”, noting the scorecard calls for incorporating environmental concerns across the EU’s policy reach.
“That’s exactly what we’ve been doing,” said Joe Hennon, Potočnik’s spokesman. “We’ve been looking at mid- to long-term change and that doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.
“They talk about transforming our societies and economies, and that is exactly what we are doing,” he said, adding that the report’s criticism of Potočnik over biofuels failed to mention his boss’s efforts to press commissioners to consider the broader impact of plant-based fuels.
Riss said the report – illustrated with Olympic themes and sporting terms – was not aimed at individual commissioners but at the Barroso team’s performance as a whole. The report said the EU executive’s work on the environment has deteriorated since Barroso’s first five-year term began in 2004, though Riss acknowledged that today's economic climate made the job difficult.