European Court of Auditors criticise plans to reform CAP

The reform proposals for the EU’s agricultural policy are being met with criticism. [shutterstock/antb]

On Wednesday (7 November) the EU’s auditors expressed clear criticism of the plans to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They said that the Commission’s proposals did not the meet the demand for a “more environmentally-friendly and more strongly performance-based” approach. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Finding itself under pressure – considering Brexit and new challenges with regard to saving the Euro, the defence union and border management – to save money in other areas, the European Commission is calling for a comprehensive reform of the agricultural policy. Less money should be spent and it should also be used in a more targeted manner.

However, the list of objectives is long, including income support for farmers, improving competitiveness, a more even distribution of power in the food supply chain, combating climate change, sustainability, biodiversity and so on. Do the proposals for reform meet these demands?

The investigators at the European Court of Auditors do not believe so. The establishment, which is based in Luxembourg, represents taxpayers’ interests in the EU. It monitors the Union’s expenditure and whether its revenue is correctly levied. Moreover, it regularly issues opinions in order to improve the management of financial resources. The Court of Auditors’ experts are also often listened to by decision-makers in Brussels.

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In its latest opinion, the Court of Auditors’ experts particularly complained about the fact that a significant part of the funding was paid in the form of direct payments “based on given amount of hectares of land owned or used” even after the CAP reform. As there are no other policymaking options in this area, the multiple environmental concerns could not be taken into consideration with these payments. The method was also not the most sensible way, from an economic point of view, of providing farmers with a decent income, the Court of Auditors argued.

Admittedly, the auditors acknowledged that the reform proposal provides instruments to achieve the objectives. However, “they are neither specific nor translated into quantified targets.” The fact that the focus of the CAP support is moving from compliance with regulations to performance was welcomed. However, the Court of Auditors stated that important elements for ensuring a workable performance scheme were not provided. It added that, in particular, more performance incentives and an inspection system for legality were needed.

“The transition to a performance-based evaluation would not mean that we can do without checking legality and regularity,” outlined João Figueiredo, the member of the Court of Auditors responsible for the opinions. “We are concerned that a legislative provision, whereby only a very small proportion of expenditure has to be carried out in accordance with Union legislation, could lead to these provisions losing their importance and the application of EU law being undermined.”

The Greens in the European Parliament consider their position to be confirmed by the critical opinion from Luxembourg. “The Court of Auditors summarises that the reform proposal does not indicate a longer-term vision for EU agriculture. I can only agree with this. As an MEP, I will do what I can to make the agricultural policy more environmentally friendly, animal-friendly, fairer and more performance-oriented,” said the Green MEP Maria Heubuch, for instance.

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The working group for rural agriculture (AbL), where particularly smaller farms in Germany are organised, also shares many of the Court of Auditors’ points of criticism. “We feel vindicated in our demand that we need specific and meaningful objectives and indicators both at the EU level and in the individual member states, in order to strengthen what is common in the European agricultural policy. It is also true that the European Commission needs tangible measures in a performance- and results-oriented approach with plenty of room for manoeuvre for the member states, otherwise the box of arbitrariness cannot be stopped,” press spokesperson Ulrich Jasper told EURACTIV Germany.

However, he added that the Court of Auditors’ statements on the environmental measures were contradictory. “On the one hand, the Court is praising the Commission’s ambitions, and on the other it is criticising the progressive proposal of also funding specific support measures from the most full pot, in other words from the first column,” Jasper said.

In any case, the Court of Auditors’ criticism comes at an opportune moment because it is not yet too late to include concrete improvements in the legislative texts. The process of opinion-forming is underway in both the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. Should the positions remain, it will enter the trilogue negotiations with the Commission. But this will probably only happen after the May 2019 European elections.


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