Commission’s ‘green’ CAP questionable, study says

A squirrel in St James's Park Lake, London. [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

The implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period 2014-2020 is not as “green” as the European Commission is claiming, a new study has found.

The European Commission, though, shares a different view. 

A study conducted by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and BirdLife Europe found a €1 billion decline in the actual funding for “green” measures meant to benefit the environment on farmland.

The EEB notes that over 80% of protected extensive grasslands in Natura 2000 sites are in an “unfavorable condition”. Agriculture is also responsible for 10% the EU’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

>>Read: Commission promotes smart farming to mitigate climate change

The report stated that the original idea behind the reform of the post-2013 CAP was to ensure public money was being used to pay for public goods.

“This was translated into good agronomic practices linked with farmers’ direct payments and more ambitious measures for the environment in Rural Development,” it said.

But, according to the report, as political negotiations evolved “this intention rapidly disappeared, leaving us with very weak basic regulations”.

The “hidden” truth

The report showed that compared to the previous period, 2007-2013, an estimated 73% of the analysed countries have decreased their spending for environmental measures.

14 countries and regions out of 19 that were analysed have reduced their “green” spending.

In addition, in 79% of the examined cases, the quality of the measures was overstated.

“This means that less than 17% of EU land will be under contracts that meaningfully contribute to the EU’s biodiversity strategy.”

>>Read: New CAP must face biodiversity challenge

“If member states want to be serious about their biodiversity commitments in farmland, they need to urgently put more money into the measures that actually deliver, whilst changing those that are currently just money for nothing,” Trees Robijns, BirdLife Senior EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer, stressed.

The report, also, added that more than 1/3 of ecosystem spending goes to Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) measures, which have no environmental conditions.

“ANCs should not be counted as environmentally-beneficial measures as there are no environmental obligations or management requirements attached to the payments,” the report recommended.

Commission defends the new CAP

Commenting on the study, a European Commission spokesman told EURACTIV that the introduction of greening in the new CAP was an achievement, as the budget of the first pillar [direct payments] of the CAP is, for the first time, linked to a prescribed list of environmental practices

“Based on the notifications received so far, half of EU’s farmers are now obliged to carry out environmental practices on 80% of the farmland,” the EU official said.

Referring to the Rural Development Programmes, the EU source said that there was specific support to improve biodiversity on almost 18% of farm land through targeted management contracts designed to deliver identified benefits.

“Similarly, 15% of farmland will be under management contracts designed to improve water management and 14.3 % for soil. Taken together, this paints a convincing picture of a CAP that is more environmentally result oriented,” the EU spokesman added.

A legal requirement

The same source continued, stressing that it is a legal requirement to spend at least 30% of the EU rural development budget on a number of environmental and climate measures.

“Looking across the 118 Rural Development programmes, we are actually spending almost half (49%) of the budget on these measures, so going beyond that legal requirement,” the spokesman said, adding that this includes around 16% earmarked for payments for Areas with Natural Constraints, which “help prevent land abandonment and thereby maintaining biodiversity in the farmed landscapes.” 

“Emissions stemming from agriculture have declined by 24% since 1990, while total output of agricultural production was maintained thanks to land management using modern technologies, improved knowledge and specific practices combat climate change,” the source concluded.

Trees Robijns, BirdLife Senior EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer, said: “The Rural Development Programmes represent the biggest opportunity for delivering environmental benefits on farmland. However, the hidden truth is that out of the 19 countries and regions analysed, 14 have decreased their spending on environmental measures. In addition, the quality of the measures was overstated in 79% of the cases we looked at. This presents a very worrying picture.”

Faustine Bas-Defossez, EEB Senior Policy Officer for Agriculture and Bioenergy, noted: “We already knew that the greening of farmers direct payments was falling short on delivering results for the environment but what our analysis on Rural Development tells us today is that there is a risk of going even further in the wrong direction when it comes to environmental delivery of the policy as a whole.”

And added: “The CAP greening process was meant to ensure citizens get better value for their money and the new EU Rural Development programmes could have been so much more ambitious. Unfortunately the opposite has happened and the truth behind the official numbers shows that the reality is not always as rosy as the European Commission would like to make out. Quite simply not enough money has been allocated for targeted schemes which will directly help stave off more biodiversity loss.”

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