With farmers being major consumers of freshwater, the European Court of Auditors is assessing the impact of the EU’s agricultural policy on sustainable water use. The audit, which has just started, will be useful as the EU moves forward with its reform of the common agricultural policy.
Freshwater is one of our most valuable resources. However, the dual pressures of economic activity and climate change are making water increasingly scarce throughout Europe. Agriculture in particular has a major impact. At least one quarter of all freshwater abstracted in the EU is used on farmland. Agricultural activity not only affects the quantity and availability of freshwater resources, but it also affects water quality, for instance through fertiliser and pesticide pollution.
“Farmers are major users of freshwater; they are also among the first to be impacted by water scarcity,” said Joëlle Elvinger, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the audit. “Our audit seeks to determine in particular whether the action of the EU and its Member States in agriculture is suitable and effective in applying and enforcing the principles of sustainable management of this vital resource.”
The EU’s current approach to managing water goes back to the 2000 Water Framework Directive, which introduced, among other things, principles of sustainable water use. It aims to prevent the deterioration of water bodies and achieve good qualitative and quantitative status for all water bodies across the EU.
The common agricultural policy (CAP) plays an important role in water sustainability. It offers some tools that can help reduce the pressures on water resources, but it may also, for example, finance irrigation infrastructure.
This audit of the impact of the EU’s agricultural policy on the sustainable use of water is being launched with a view to contributing to the future CAP.
The auditors will assess whether EU policies promote sustainable water use in agriculture. In particular, they will examine whether:
o The European Commission has included the principles of sustainable water use in the CAP rules, and;
o EU member states apply those principles and provide incentives for sustainable water use in agriculture.
Three weeks ago, the European Commission decided not to revise the Water Framework Directive, which requires Member States to ensure that all water bodies are in “good status” by 2027.
The audit preview published on 7 July provides information about an ongoing audit task on the sustainable use of water in EU agriculture, which is expected to be concluded in the second half of 2021. Audit previews are based on preparatory work undertaken before the start of an audit and should not be regarded as audit observations, conclusions or recommendations. The full audit preview is available in English here.
In recent years, the ECA has published several special reports on water-related issues, such as desertification, the Drinking Water Directive, eutrophication in the Baltic Sea and water quality in the Danube river basin. Information on the measures the ECA has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.
CAP: New report on fraud, corruption and misuse of EU agricultural funds must be wake up call
MEPs working on protection of the EU's budget from the Greens/EFA group have just released a new report: "Where does the EU money go?", which looks at the misuse of European agricultural funds in Central and Eastern Europe. The report looks at systemic weakness in EU agricultural funds and maps out in clear terms, how EU funds contribute to fraud and corruption and undermining the rule of law in five EU countries: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
The report outlines up to date cases, including: Fraudulent claims and payments of EU agricultural subsidies Slovakia; the conflicts of interest around Czech Prime Minister's Agrofert company in Czechia; and state interference by the Fidesz government in Hungary. This report comes out as the EU institutions are in the process of negotiating the Common Agricultural Policy for the years 2021-27.
Viola von Cramon MEP, Greens/EFA member of the Budgetary Control Committee, comments: "The evidence shows that EU agricultural funds are fuelling fraud, corruption and the rise of rich businessmen. Despite numerous investigations, scandals and protests, the Commission seems to be turning a blind eye to the rampant abuse of taxpayer's money and member states are doing little to address systematic issues. The Common Agricultural Policy simply isn't working. It provides the wrong incentives for how land is used, which damages the environment and harms local communities. The massive accumulation of land at the expense of the common good is not a sustainable model and it certainly shouldn't be financed from the EU's budget.
"We cannot continue to allow a situation where EU funds are causing such harm in so many countries. The Commission needs to act, it cannot bury its head in the sand. We need transparency on how and where EU money ends up, the disclosure of the ultimate owners of large agricultural companies and an end to conflicts of interest. The CAP must be reformed just so it works for people and the planet and is ultimately accountable to EU citizens. In the negotiations around the new CAP, the Parliament team must stand firm behind mandatory capping and transparency."
Mikuláš Peksa, Pirate Party MEP and Greens/EFA Member of the Budgetary Control Committee said: “We have seen in my own country how EU agricultural funds are enriching an entire class of people all the way up to the Prime Minister. There is a systemic lack of transparency in the CAP, both during and after the distribution process. National paying agencies in CEE fail to use clear and objective criteria when selecting beneficiaries and are not publishing all the relevant information on where the money goes. When some data is disclosed, it is often deleted after the mandatory period of two years, making it almost impossible to control.
“Transparency, accountability and proper scrutiny are essential to building an agricultural system that works for all, instead of enriching a select few. Unfortunately, data on subsidy recipients are scattered over hundreds of registers, which are mostly not interoperable with the Commission’s fraud detection tools. Not only is it almost impossible for the Commission to identify corruption cases, but it is often unaware of who the final beneficiaries are and how much money they receive. In the ongoing negotiations for the new CAP period, we cannot allow the Member States to continue operating with this lack of transparency and EU oversight."
The report is available online here.
Commission presents study on impact of trade agreements on agri-food sectors
The Commission has presented the results of a study on the expected economic effects by 2030 of ongoing and upcoming trade negotiations on the EU agricultural sector. The results are based on a theoretical modelling exercise on the potential economic effects on the agri-food sector, including specific results for some agriculture products after the conclusion of 12 trade agreements. This study represents an update of a study carried out in 2016. The EU trade agenda is set to have an overall positive impact on the EU economy and the agri-food sector.
Trade agreements are due to result in substantial increases in EU agri-food exports, with more limited increases in imports, creating a positive trade balance overall.
Executive Vice President responsible for trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The EU has always stood for open and fair trade which has enormously benefitted our economy, including agricultural producers. This study shows that we have been able to strike the right balance between offering more export opportunities to EU farmers, while protecting them from potential harmful effects of increased imports.
"Supporting the EU agri-food sector will continue to be a key element of the EU's trade policy, be it through market opening, protecting traditional EU food products or defending it against dumping or other forms of unfair trade.”
Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “The success of EU agricultural trade reflects the competitiveness of our sector. Reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy have highly contributed to this, supported by a global reputation of EU products as being safe, sustainably produced, nutritious and of high quality. This study, with more positive results than in 2016, confirms that our ambitious trade agenda helps EU farmers and food producers take full advantage of opportunities abroad while making sure we have sufficient safeguards in place for the most sensitive sectors."
Agriculture: Commission publishes list of potential eco-schemes
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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