WWF: EU’s long-term budget does not reflect 2020 goals

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This article is part of our special report Resource efficiency: towards a circular economy.

Tony Long, director of the WWF's European Policy Office, says the draft EU budget for 2014-2020 fails to reflect the bloc's long-term priorities on climate change, biodiversity and resource-efficiency.

Tony Long is director of the WWF's European Policy Office.

He was speaking to EURACTIV's editor Frederic Simon.

To read an article about the EU budget review featuring Mr. Long's comments, please click here

The EU is starting this week a review of its long-term budget for the period 2014-2020. At the same time, the EU has adopted an agenda for sustainable growth and jobs, called ‘Europe 2020’. Does the EU budget currently reflect the bloc’s priorities for 2020?

No. The current EU budget is not focused towards fostering the green economy. Its two main funds, the Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion Policy, making up 80% of the budget do not reflect climate, biodiversity and resource efficiency priorities that are now top of the political agenda.

What needs to change in order for the two to match better?

Public money should be used for public goods. EU citizens want and expect jobs, economic and financial stability and a good environment for themselves and future generations. The next EU budget needs to be better targeted towards the delivery of clear outcomes.

The budget must contribute to climate and biodiversity solutions, not exacerbate the problems. The budget must only be used to support projects consistent with EU key priorities. If this means returning more control of EU expenditure to Brussels, so be it.

Is the mismatch problem more acute at European level than national level?

All countries are struggling with the policy coherence problem. How to urgently tackle the failings of the conventional economic paradigm which fails to give proper value to environmental goods and services is the challenge of our time. Getting national and EU budgets into line for properly pricing externalities and correcting market failures is a political challenge of the utmost urgency and importance.

With the economic crisis, most European countries have made substantial cuts to their budgets and are calling on the EU to do the same. Are similar cuts desirable at European level?

The EU budget currently accounts for 2% of public expenditure in Europe. It is difficult to see how cutting into this relatively small amount is going to make much difference in the overall scheme of things. But cuts would make a big difference to the delivery of European projects. No doubt environmental expenditures which are not very high at the moment would be squeezed still further. So cuts would not be welcome. That means concentrating on value for money projects supported by European public opinion will become ever more important.

What makes the situation different?

The public goods of climate and biodiversity require a truly European approach to be managed efficiently and sustainably. In addition, they are key EU priorities included in the Europe 2020 Strategy including the Flagship Initiative on Resource efficiency.  The EU will not meet its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020 unless it puts its money where its mouth is.  Plus these priorities are generally popular with European public opinion.

The European budget has remained remarkably stable over time, with the Common Agriculture Policy taking the lion’s share at around 40%. Is there any reason to believe that it would be different this time round?

Yes. The huge austerity pressure makes it even more relevant to improve targeting of the EU payments to the delivery of clear outcomes, contributing to EU goals, and to focus only where the EU added value is the highest. In addition, EU targets for 2020 require strong shifts in the EU budget to be achieved, notably to support the fight against climate change.

Do you believe the EU should reduce its budget for agriculture?

The key issue for WWF is the quality of spending. If the next CAP strongly supports sustainable farming systems like organic farming or High Nature Value farming, improves environmental requirements and contributes to the management of natural areas (like Natura 2000 under the Habitats Directive), then it will deliver more public goods like biodiversity protection, climate stability, sustainable water management.

Then we could be ready to support the same amount for the CAP. If not, we may find it more attractive to reduce the CAP budget and reallocate a part to other expenditures where the EU budget will have more added value.

Europe’s environmental rules in agriculture are already considered the most stringent in the world, weighing on the incomes of farmers. Do you think they need to be strengthened even further?

Yes. All studies show that European agriculture is not yet sustainable, so it cannot go on with business as usual. Implementation of the rules and compliance controls must also be improved, as many violations continue to happen and undermine the efficiency of the rules. Changing agricultural practices will also be important in delivering climate change goals, including possibly revolutionising our diets to reduce meat and dairy consumption.

One of the main objectives of the EU is to move towards a 'green economy' which creates 'green jobs' What role can the EU budget play in helping to achieve those objectives?

The EU budget can play a crucial role in boosting the green sectors that create new jobs and respect the ecological limits of the planet – energy savings and energy efficiency, retrofitting buildings, renewable energies, public transport, green infrastructures.

There are huge potentials in all these areas across Europe, but especially also in the new member states. The budget should leverage private finance for a greener economy, notably through the European Investment Bank, including support for cross-border projects like smart electricity grids for renewable energies.

Can such objectives be met simply by throwing money at them?

No. The EU budget is only one tool amongst many at the disposal of EU institutions. Big challenges like climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as biodiversity protection and enhancement require an integrated approach combining several tools: binding regulation, production standards, financial support, best practice outreach, awareness campaigns. Money is only part of the solution.

With the Lisbon Treaty, Europe has strengthened its external dimension. How does that reflect on the EU budget?

I think it is too soon to see the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the external dimension of the EU budget. But it is clear from the Copenhagen Accord on climate and soon an equivalent (we hope) Nagoya agreement on biodiversity that the emerging economies and developing countries are going to want to see new and additional money on the table for help in solving some of the most pressing environmental problems of our time. The EU budget must have a response to that.

Are sustainability objectives taken into account?

There are some welcome signs that aid effectiveness is moving more and more in the direction of meeting sustainability objectives. The EU’s Policy Coherence for Development initiative is a case in point. But these initiatives have to be translated into strengthened financial commitments, including meeting the Millenium Development goal targets.  The EU will gain credibility and support at home and abroad, I believe, if it strengthens these international aspects in its next budget.

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