EU’s financial watchdog calls out Commission’s toothless ‘green’ farming plan

Protections for the climate and the environment will not increase under the European Commission’s plans for agricultural policy reform. That’s the damming assessment published today by the EU’s top financial watchdog.

The report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) found that the European Commission’s plans to develop a greener EU agricultural policy won’t result in real increases in environmental improvements if the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy system continues to be based on farm size.

While Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan’s proposal makes a strong case for environmental and climate-related action, the EU auditors say these words are not backed up with a workable approach to monitoring farm practices to ensure these green goals are met.

Bérénice Dupeux, Policy Officer for Agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), welcomed the ECA findings and warned that allowing member countries to design their own environmental policies will make it even more difficult to “track where money is sent and if it delivers”.

Dupeux said that “with so much European taxpayers’ money being spent on farm payments, we need real accountability to ensure the cash is supporting farmers to produce safe and healthy food in a way that works in harmony with the environment and not against it”.

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe, said that the Court of Auditors had once again shone “a harsh light on a CAP that is broken beyond repair.

Last year a previous EU spending audit of direct payments made to farmers for taking care of the environment on farms showed that these payments have not led to greener farm practices.

The auditors’ report comes as a new Europe-wide campaign kicks off calling for a rethink of how we grow, share and consume our food in line with the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Today’s report could influence how MEPs react to the Commission’s farm proposal when they get their say in committee votes over the coming weeks and in an all-MEP vote in early 2019.

However, Brunner warns that:

Europe’s Agricultural Ministers and the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee are busy making things even worse”.

Brunner expressed concern that politicians are ignoring the mounting evidence that the current direct payments system has been a failure for the environment, society and the economy. He said that although “every analysis [of the CAP] points to the same finding” the “political system is a total hostage to the intensive farm lobby” which is “committed to leading us towards ecological catastrophe and transforming the CAP into a pure slush fund for agricultural ministers”.

Marco Contiero, agriculture policy director at the Greenpeace EU office, said: “The Commission wants to continue to bankroll farms based purely on their size, regardless of the environmental impact. EU payments should reward farmers who preserve the air, soil, water, climate and wildlife we all depend on, not bankroll factory farms and wealthy landowners.”