CAP could be called in for ‘better regulation’ scrutiny

Brussels could give the reformed CAP a better regulation 'fitness check'. [Rob Bertholf/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Agriculture and climate change: the role of the new CAP.

SPECIAL REPORT: EXCLUSIVE / Environmental campaigners plan to force changes in the reformed Common Agricultural Policy by using the European Commission’s ‘better regulation’ procedures to call in the laws for renewed scrutiny.

Better regulation is the executive’s drive to cut red tape through fitness checks of EU legislation. Green NGOs will use the Commission’s ‘Lighten the Load‘ website to demand the CAP is put under the microscope. The site asks the public to suggest ways to make EU laws more effective and efficient.

If successful, it could be the first time the REFIT programme is used to further environmental goals, rather than ensure burdens on business are lightened.

The CAP is a system of farming subsidies, first introduced in 1962, and subject to regular reforms ever since. The 2014-2020 CAP earmarks about €62 billion, for the ‘greening envelope’ of direct payments, and €50.4 billion from the Rural Development budget. €44.2 billion was spent over 2007-2013.

“The Commission will say this is the greenest CAP ever but we have every reason to believe that is not the case,” said Pieter de Pous, of the European Environmental Bureau, one of the NGOs involved. 

He branded the greening of pillar one of the CAP a “complete failure”. “Agriculture is the main driver of biodiversity loss,” he added.

CAP subsidies did not make economic sense and only existed because of historical reasons. They were effectively a social policy. If such a social policy was desired, it should not only be available to farmers, de Pous told EURACTIV.

Failed objectives

Campaigners will argue that CAP has failed to deliver its objectives of viable food production, sustainable management of natural resources, climate action, and support rural employment and social fabric.

Using the executive’s better regulation principle, campaigners will ask;

  • Is the policy delivering results effectively and cost-efficiently?
  • Is it coherent with other EU policies on areas such as water, air, climate and biodiversity?
  • Does it adhere to the subisidiarity? Does EU involvement bring added value or would national policies be better?

REFIT Platform

The application process is based around a standardised online evaluation form. Requests feed into the REFIT Platform, which consists of two independent groups.

One is made up from government representatives of each member state and the other of business, civil society, and members of Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions. Two members of environmental NGOs sit on the Platform.

The REFIT Platform, which meets for the first time on 29 January, analyses the requests and makes recommendations to the executive. If the decision to begin REFIT is made by the Commission, it must begin a consultation process.

It must develop questions for the relevant European Commission departments, and organise a study, or report scrutinising the law.

That too will be open to consultation before the executive takes a decision. If it decides to change the laws, the normal legislative process will begin, and involve input from both the EU Council and Parliament.

“If the Commission does not accept the application, it will then confirm a bias for business in the system,” said de Pous. “If it does agree, we will have an interesting debate about how effective the reformed CAP is.”

Fitness checks

The executive has, on its own initiative, carried out fitness checks of the directives in the Water Framework Directive, the Birds and Habitats Directive, and rules on ecolabelling, environmental reporting and chemicals.

The check on the Birds and Habitats Directive sparked a record response of more than 187,000 people, all demanding the conservation rules were not weakened.

>>Read: Better regulation won’t hurt environment, vows Timmermans

The Circular Economy Package of waste and recycling laws was axed, and later retabled, as part of the better regulation push.

Better regulation is one of the UK’s demands for EU reform. The Commission hails it as an important way to fulfil its promise to be “big on the big things and small on the small things”, and to reduce unnecessary burdens on businesses.

In December last year, the European Commission backed a new inter-institutional agreement on better regulation. It has yet to be confirmed by the European Parliament. 

>>Read: Commission wants to vet changes to draft EU law

>>Read: Commission ready to give Parliament and Council more say over new laws

The push for better rule-making is spearheaded by Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. 

Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said “Farmers are doing their utmost to make the CAP and new greening measures work. The CAP is a market oriented policy providing support for farmers so that they can provide society with safe, nutritious, quality food whilst delivering a number of public goods in the areas of environment, animal welfare, and protecting against biodiversity loss.

“In Europe, we have some of the highest environmental and welfare standards in the world. The greening measures are however still very complex and burdensome on farmers.”

Under the European Commission's 2013 programme of "greening" the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a bonus and penalty scheme was put in place to encourage farmers to preserve hedgerows and consume less water. But the programme ignores the question of surface artificialisation and the idea of limiting bovine livestock farming.

Already "greened" in 2013, the CAP is due for another reform in 2020, when the focus of the model will be adapted to take into account the climate risks associated with farming. If only by changing the methodology. As climate change increases the risk of variable harvests, the new CAP could offer a system of insurance that would only be activated if the harvest was poor or price fell too low.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to refocus the EU executive on the bigger political issues of the day and cut regulations seen as unnecessary or hampering business activity.

Juncker nominated his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a new role watching over the subsidiarity principle, whereby the EU should only intervene where it can act more effectively than national or local governments.

  • 29 January: First meeting of REFIT Platform

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