Agriculture and biodiversity: A make or break for European Green Deal

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Wild flowers along an agricultural field to increase biodiversity as part of biological farming. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

A recent impact report published by the European Commission lays bare the terrible mismatch between the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the bloc’s biodiversity objectives, writes Jabier Ruiz.

Jabier Ruiz is a senior policy officer for agriculture at WWF European Policy Office.

Under extraordinary circumstances that are unprecedented in modern times, the EU policy world still maintains some activity during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

On Friday (27 March), the European Commission finally released its report about the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on biodiversity. It’s a thorough analysis to keep one’s mind busy in times of confinement, and yet another piece of evidence about the poor performance of the EU’s farming policy on nature protection.

The impact report published by the Commission shows once again how little the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has done to support High Nature Value farming or to contain any of the impacts of industrial farming on biodiversity.

After a series of well-intentioned CAP reforms, 30 years after the first agri-environmental CAP schemes were implemented, biodiversity – particularly that related to farmland habitats – continues to free-fall in the EU.

The “Evaluation of the impact of the CAP on habitats, landscapes and biodiversity” lays bare the terrible mismatch between the disingenuous CAP narrative pushed by the farming industry interests – that the CAP is helping biodiversity – and the reality on the ground.

And yet, incredibly, the post-2020 CAP looks set to make the same mistakes again. As the report underlines, the Ecological Focus Areas of the CAP 2014-2020 have been a failure for biodiversity, but the Council wants to continue with the same approach in the future CAP.

Organic farming is identified as one of the best approaches to improve biodiversity in intensively farmed areas, but in the next CAP – let alone the transition period – there could be fewer funds devoted to supporting it.

The report also shows how the member states consistently avoid prioritising effective measures for farmland biodiversity, and there is nothing in the future CAP proposals to secure sufficient environmental expenditure and guarantee a minimum quality of the measures implemented.

The list could go on and on, with some local successes where Natura 2000 and agri-environmental payments have been thoughtfully applied, but which cannot hide an overall failure.

In a sector heavily subsidised by the EU itself, accelerating the transition towards climate and nature-friendly farming practices will be largely dependent upon the Commission’s and the co-legislators’ ability to overhaul the CAP post-2020, a policy that will guide EU agriculture for the next decade.

The CAP debate is now entering its final stages, and it is crucial that the regulations eventually agreed for the future CAP reflect the targets and orientation set by the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, both due to be announced in six weeks.

With so much at stake and so many pivotal decisions to be taken on agriculture and biodiversity in the coming weeks and months, WWF once again had to force the European Commission’s hand by filing an Access to Documents request for the missing report published today – a key piece of the puzzle.

If the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies are to be aligned with the European Green Deal and truly aim to protect our planet, they should firmly establish a different direction for Europe’s food and farming.

They must be strong, ambitious and announce legal initiatives to achieve their targets, including a drastic reorientation of the CAP.

The European Green Deal has been called the EU’s man-on-the-moon moment, but the CAP, as we know today, is very far from becoming the Apollo 11.

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