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15th Dec 2019

EU auditors roast commission farming proposal

  • 'It is not clear how the commission would carry out its assessment or ensure sufficient ambition, given that there would be no quantified EU targets', the auditors said. (Photo: Pixabay)

The European Court of Auditors has published a scathing evaluation of the European Commission's legislative proposal on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The report, out on Wednesday (7 November), said that the commission's long-term vision on EU agriculture beyond 2030 was "not apparent"; that the commission gave "insufficient" arguments to support continued income subsidies for farmers; and that the commission's estimate of the proposal's contribution to climate action appeared "unrealistic".

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  • The proposal, drafted under EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan (r), did not contain solid evidence to roll-over farmers' income subsidies, said the report (Photo: European Commission)

The commission proposed last May that the CAP should be reformed for the next budgetary period of 2021-2027.

In particular the commission said that the CAP would be 'greener' and that member states should have more flexibility on how to implement the common policy.

The latter would be done by having each member state draw up a "strategic plan" every year.

But according to the Court of Auditors – which is not an actual court – the proposed system gives the commission no guarantees that the common EU goals will be achieved.

In fact, the auditors said that the goals were not well-enough defined.

"The absence of clear, specific and quantified EU objectives creates uncertainty about how the commission would assess member states CAP strategic plans," said the report.

"It also means that achievement of EU objectives cannot be measured."

"The framework proposed provides relatively weak incentives for performance. Targets could be missed by a considerable margin with little impact on EU financing," it warned.

The report was also critical of the impact the new CAP would have on limiting climate change.

The commission has said it expected 40 percent of the CAP budget to contribute to cutting EU greenhouse gas emissions.

"However, the contribution these funds would make to preventing climate change is unknown, as it would depend on the measures selected by the member states in their CAP strategic plans," said the report, adding that "the estimated CAP contribution towards climate change objectives [was] unrealistic".

"It is not clear how the commission would carry out its assessment or ensure sufficient ambition, given that there would be no quantified EU targets," it added.

Insufficient evidence

The auditors also noted that several of the commission's choices were not backed up by solid evidence.

In particular, it said that the commission did not prove that direct EU subsidies to support farmers' income was still necessary.

"While the case for EU environmental and climate change-related actions is strong, the data used to support the needs assessment for farmers' income is insufficient," it said.

Income support for EU farmers dates back almost to the beginning of EU integration. After the food shortages of World War II, it was decided that Europe should be self-sufficient when it came to food supply.

But the auditors noted that the world has changed.

"To ensure future food security, addressing climate change is likely to be more relevant than supporting farm income," they noted.

One aim of the CAP reform was to simplify the legislation.

To do so, the commission proposed to reduce the number of regulations from five to three. But this seems to have backfired.

"Having three regulations with several cross-references makes the legal text complicated to read," said the report.

The commission's proposal is currently being assessed by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU – where national governments meet.

'Misunderstandings'

On Wednesday afternoon, a commission spokeswoman said that the commission will analyse the report in detail.

"We can already say at this stage that the commission rejects a number of conclusions set out in the court's opinion as they are based on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the commission's proposals," she said. She did not specify which conclusions it rejected.

"The commission will provide the court with a detailed response and looks forward to the opportunity to meet the relevant members of the court to elaborate on its assessment of the court's opinion," she added.

A commission source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the EU objectives were "as specific as possible for an EU-wide common policy".

The source said that the commission did provide detailed information on farmers' income, and said the court of auditors "systematically ignores all the evidence" provided by the commission's directorate-general agriculture.

EU farm projects unreasonably costly, auditors say

An aid scheme to help farmers improve environmental sustainability of their farms funded programmes that could have been a much better value for money, says the Court of Auditors.

Analysis

Hogan's carrot: reform to soften CAP cuts

The European Commission is dangling the prospect to farmers of being able to dodge financial cuts in the upcoming EU budget – but only if national governments agree to a mandatory redistribution of subsidies.

'Robin Hood' measure in CAP seems doomed

Commission wanted farmers' EU subsidies to be capped at €100,000, with payouts they would have received beyond that redistributed to smaller farms. But member states oppose the idea.

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