The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was deemed greener and fairer by the European Commission (EC) and most Member States, who claimed a great victory for the environment and for farmers when the deal was concluded last June. Ever since, NGOs have criticised the new CAP for being too broad a framework and unambitious in guaranteeing better outcomes for the environment. But after all, it is the EU countries who are responsible for implementing the concrete decision they have taken in relation to the new CAP.

In this sense the real deal lies with the national CAP Strategic Plans (CSPs), which need to deliver on the climate and biodiversity pledges made by our decisionmakers. The European Member States are in full swing of drafting their CSPs, due to be submitted to the European Commission at the end of the year. Sophia Caiati and Célia Nyssens examine if these CSPs make the cut.

EEB and BirdLife survey

The EEB and BirdLife conducted a survey which offers a glimpse into the implementation plans at the national level and into how the new CSPs intend to deliver on the promised objectives. Although these drafts might be corrected to some extent before their submission, the results clearly show that overall, what’s being decided at the national level is not going in the right direction for the new CAP, which might turn out to be a tin of green but empty promises. 

Our evaluation provides a first snapshot of what experts think of the plans based on the information available as of 12 November 2021.

Falling short on commitments

National experts from 22 countries in the EEB and BirdLife networks screened the current draft plans against 7 key criteria stemming from the EEB’s 10 Tests for a Green Deal-compatible CAP. Their assessment was translated into a traffic light benchmarking system of how countries score on each of the criteria.

While the overall negative assessment of the CSPs doesn’t come as a surprise, it is still worrying to see how many experts believe that their countries’ plans will fall short of what has been promised. The overwhelming majority (19) of countries score only poor or very poor in the different dimensions, indicating that the CSPs are unlikely to deliver significant improvements with regards to environmental and climate objectives.

Moreover, in more than half of the countries the government did not make available enough information for at least one of the criteria. This is problematic, because environmental stakeholders did not have key information just a little over a month before their submission deadline, limiting their capacity for democratic participation in this crucial process.

The EU and every EU country pledged to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, but many national plans lack sufficient targets and measures to ensure that agricultural areas provide for ‘space for nature’, the urgent commitment outlined in the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy.

A similar picture emerges for most countries concerning the protection of grasslands and peatlands, which act as important carbon sinks and habitats for biodiversity. Out of the 22 countries only a few (3) score well on those 2 dimensions (grasslands and peatlands/wetlands), indicating that most national CAP Plans will fail to set strong enough measures and targets to protect grasslands and peatlands.

The new green budget

One of the main reasons EU and national politicians have claimed that this new CAP will be greener is because of the allocation of a new budget to environmental measures.

However, none of the surveyed countries appeared to have well-funded and well-designed measures in place that would adequately address climate and biodiversity objectives. On the contrary, most national experts judged that the proposed voluntary management schemes, as for instance eco-schemes, are either insufficient or lack funding to halt biodiversity loss and reduce GHG emissions in their countries.

We will have a more detailed analysis of “eco-schemes” coming up (on 25th November 2021) which sets out to offer a first glimpse at how countries intend to use this new instrument in the CAP.

When asked how concerned experts were about the environmentally harmful subsidies in their national plans, around 82% (18 out of 22) expressed being worried about risky measures and not enough safeguards to mitigate risks.

Participation and accountability

Another important finding relates to government’s efforts in involving environmental NGOs – who bring ecological expertise and citizens’ concerns to policymakers – in the preparation of CAP Strategic Plans. Except for Finland, all NGOs surveyed rated the quality of the stakeholder process as poor or very poor. This is particularly problematic as the active participation of environmental experts and citizens regarding decisions on CAP spending is central to improving its environmental performance and public accountability.

Vote this CAP down

The findings of our survey raise many questions with regards to the vigour and overall ‘fitness’ of the new CAP. Member States must come up with more comprehensive and ambitious plans, but it seems increasingly unlikely that they will do so. On 23 November, MEPs will have their final say on the post-2022 CAP. Their vote must pull the emergency brake on this greenwashed ‘reform’ and prevent another near decade of business as usual. The EU agricultural system of the future needs a more ambitious reform than this to be able to embark on the sustainability journey.

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