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EU agriculture policy in transition: Continuity is necessary, as well as clear rules, say auditors 

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There are delays in agreeing the EU’s multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-2027 and the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This is why the European Commission has proposed transitional rules for the CAP in 2021, to carry on funding EU farmers and rural development after the expiry of the current policy in 2020 and until a new CAP comes into force. These delays will put back the potentially more ambitious EU agriculture policy by at least a year, warns the European Court of Auditors in a new opinion. This additional time should be used to address the climate and environmental challenges set out in the Green Deal, ensure robust governance of the future CAP and shore up its performance framework, say the auditors.

The Commission has proposed extending the existing legal framework and continuing financing the policy based on the amounts it has proposed for the MFF for the period after 2020. This proposed transitional regulation aims to provide certainty and continuity in the granting of support, and to smoothen the transition from the current period to the next one. The proposed transitional rules for 2021 assume that the new CAP – initially planned to start on 1 January 2021 – will be delayed by one year. The auditors analysed whether the proposed rules are legally clear and financially prudent, as well as their implications for the post-2020 CAP.

“The state-of-play of talks between the European Parliament and Council suggests that applying the new legal framework and the CAP strategic plans from 2022 could be challenging,” said Joao Figueiredo, the ECA Member responsible for the opinion. “This time gap should be used to address the issues we have raised, especially in relation to the climate and environment challenges.”

The Commission’s proposal gives member states the possibility to extend their rural development programmes by a year until the end of 2021. The auditors stress that the member states should continue pursuing at least the same or higher environmental and climate ambitions as until now with any “new money” used under old rules. The auditors also note increasing attention on payments to non-genuine farmers acquiring agricultural land to receive CAP payments, and call on the Commission and policymakers to use the extra year to assess the related risks and the need to revise the criteria set out in the post-2020 CAP legislative proposals. They also point out that the ex-post assessment of the current period is put back to the end of 2026, which means the Commission would prepare its proposal for the post-2027 CAP without having fully assessed the 2014-2020 CAP performance.

In 2018, the Commission proposed a new CAP for the period after 2020 – with effect from 1 January 2021 – under which payments would no longer be made for simply meeting the rules, but would also be based on performance against objectives specified in Member States’ strategic plans. In the same year, the ECA issued Opinion 7/2018 on the proposed reform, noting that it fell short of the EU’s ambitions for a greener and more robust performance-based approach.

According to the Commission’s legislative proposals for the post-2020 CAP, Member States would need to submit their strategic plans to the Commission by 1 January 2020. If the new MFF is not agreed in 2020, the current financial ceilings would apply in 2021. The transitional regulation concerns support from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF), and affects several aspects of the CAP, including multiannual commitments, the environmental and climate ambition, payment schedules and evaluation arrangements.

The European Court of Auditors contributes to Better Regulation in the European Union also by publishing opinions on proposals for new or revised legislation with a financial impact. These opinions are used by the legislative authorities — the European Parliament and the Council — in their legislative work.

The ECA’s Opinion 1/2020 concerning the Commission’s proposed transitional regulation relating to the CAP in 2021 and the 2019 ECA remarks in brief on the Commission’s legislative proposals for the next MFF are available on the ECA website.

Agriculture

Agriculture: Commission publishes list of potential eco-schemes

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The Commission published a list of potential agricultural practices that eco-schemes could support in the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Part of the CAP reform currently under negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council, eco-schemes are a new instrument designed to reward farmers who choose to go further in terms of environmental care and climate action. This list aims to contribute to the debate around the CAP reform and its role in reaching the Green Deal targets. This list also enhances transparency of the process for establishing the Strategic CAP Plans, and provides farmers, administrations, scientists and stakeholders a basis for further discussion on making the best use of this new instrument.

The future CAP will play a crucial role in managing the transition towards a sustainable food system and in supporting European farmers throughout. Eco-schemes will contribute significantly to this transition and to the Green Deal targets. The Commission published the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in May 2020. The Commission presented its proposals for the CAP reform in 2018, introducing a more flexible, performance and results-based approach that takes into account local conditions and needs, while increasing EU level ambitions in terms of sustainability. The European Parliament and Council agreed on their negotiating positions on the reform of the CAP on 23 and 21 October 2020, respectively, enabling the start of the trilogues on 10 November 2020. The Commission is determined to play its full role in the CAP trilogue negotiations as an honest broker between the co-legislators and as a driving force for greater sustainability to deliver on the European Green Deal objectives. A factsheet is available online and more information can be found here.

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Agriculture

Farm to Fork: Commission takes action to further reduce the use of dangerous pesticides

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As part of the EU's commitment to make food systems more sustainable and to protect citizens from harmful substances, the European Commission has today decided to withdraw Mancozeb from the EU market. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “The protection of citizens and the environment from dangerous chemicals is a priority for the European Commission. Reducing the dependency on chemical pesticides is a key pillar of the Farm to Fork strategy we presented last spring. We cannot accept that pesticides harmful to our health are used in the EU. Member states should now urgently withdraw all authorisations for plant protection products containing Mancozeb”.

Mancozeb is an active substance which is used in a number of pesticides in the EU. The proposal was supported by member states in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed in October. It follows the scientific assessment by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) which confirmed health concerns, in particular having a toxic effect on reproduction, and the protection of the environment. Mancozeb also has endocrine disrupting properties for humans and for animals. Member states will now have to withdraw authorizations for all plant protection products containing Mancozeb by June 2021.

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Agriculture

Commission approves €9.3 million Croatian scheme to support enterprises active in primary agricultural sector affected by coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved an approximately €9.3 million (HRK 70m) Croatian scheme to support enterprises active in certain primary agricultural sectors affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support, which will take the form of direct grants, will be open to breeders of cattle and sow as well as producers of apples, mandarins and potatoes in Croatia. The measure is expected to support more than 6,500 enterprises.  The aim of the scheme is to address the liquidity needs of enterprises that suffered a decrease in sales and to help them to continue their activities during and after the outbreak.

The Commission found that the Croatian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the aid will not exceed €100,000 per beneficiary, as provided by the Temporary Framework for undertakings in the primary agricultural sector; and (ii) the aid under the scheme can be granted until 30 June 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under the EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59815 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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