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EU action had little effect on halting the decline of #WildPollinators, say auditors

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EU measures did not ensure the protection of wild pollinators, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA). The biodiversity strategy to 2020 was largely ineffective in preventing their decline. In addition, key EU policies, among which the Common Agricultural Policy, do not include specific requirements for the protection of wild pollinators. On top of this, EU pesticides legislation is a main cause of wild pollinator loss, say the auditors.

Pollinators such as bees, wasps, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles greatly contribute to increasing the quantity and quality of our food. In recent decades, however, wild pollinators have declined in abundance and in diversity, largely due to intensive agriculture and the use of pesticides. The European Commission has established a framework of measures in response to this, largely based on its 2018 Pollinators Initiative and its biodiversity strategy to 2020. It has also put in place measures with the potential to affect wild pollinators under existing EU policies and legislation. The auditors assessed how effective this action has been.

“Pollinators play an essential role in plant reproduction and ecosystem functions, and their decline should be seen as a major threat to our environment, agriculture and quality food supply,” said Samo Jereb, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “The EU initiatives taken so far to protect wild pollinators have unfortunately been too weak to bear fruit.”

The auditors found that the EU’s dedicated framework does not really help to protect wild pollinators. Although no single action in the EU’s biodiversity strategy to 2020 was specifically aimed at reversing the decline in wild pollinators, four of its targets may indirectly benefit pollinators. Yet the Commission’s own mid-term review found that for three of these targets, progress had been insufficient or non-existent. The review also specifically identified pollination as one of the most degraded elements in ecosystems across the EU. The auditors also note that the Pollinators Initiative has not led to major changes in key policies.

The auditors also found that other EU policies promoting biodiversity do not include specific requirements for the protection of wild pollinators. The Commission has not made use of the options available in terms of biodiversity conservation measures in any programme, including the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 and the LIFE programme. As far as the CAP is concerned, the auditors consider that it is part of the problem, not part of the solution. The greening and cross-compliance requirements under the CAP have not been effective in halting the decline of biodiversity on farmland, as the EU auditors concluded in a recent report.

Finally, the auditors also emphasize that current EU legislation on pesticides has been unable to offer adequate measures to protect wild pollinators. The legislation currently in force includes safeguards to protect honeybees, but risk assessments are still based on guidance which is outdated and poorly aligned with legal requirements and the latest scientific knowledge. In this connection, the auditors point out that the EU framework has allowed Member States to continue using pesticides thought to be responsible for massive honeybee losses. For example, between 2013 and 2019, 206 emergency authorisations were granted for the use of three neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin), even though their application has been restricted since 2013, and they have been strictly banned for outdoor use since 2018. In another report published this year, the EU auditors found that integrated pest management practices could help reduce the use of neonicotinoids, but that the EU had made little progress so far in enforcing their use.

As the ‘Green Deal’ will be at the top of the EU’s agenda in the coming decades, the auditors recommend that the European Commission:

·       Assess the need for specific measures for wild pollinators in the 2021 follow-up actions and measures for the EU biodiversity strategy to 2030;

·       better integrate action to protect wild pollinators into EU policy instruments addressing biodiversity conservation and agriculture, and;

·       improve the protection of wild pollinators in the pesticides risk-assessment process.

Special report No 15/2020 'Protection of wild pollinators in the EU: Commission initiatives have not borne fruit' is available on the ECA website in 23 EU languages.

This audit complements recently published ECA special reports on Biodiversity on farmland, pesticide use and the Natura 2000 network.

The ECA presents its special reports to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, as well as to other interested parties such as national parliaments, industry stakeholders and representatives of civil society. The vast majority of the recommendations we make in our reports are put into practice.

Information on the measures the ECA has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.

Denmark

Commission approves Danish support for Thor offshore wind farm project

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, Danish support for the Thor offshore wind farm project, which will be located in the Danish part of the North Sea. The measure will help Denmark increase its share of electricity produced from renewable energy sources and reduce CO₂ emissions, in line with the European Green Deal, without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market.

Executive Vice President, Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said:  “This Danish measure is a very good example of how member states can provide incentives to companies to take part and invest in green energy projects, in line with EU state aid rules. The Thor offshore wind farm project will contribute to achieving the EU's ambitious energy and climate targets set out in the Green Deal, without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market.”

Denmark notified to the Commission an aid measure, with a total maximum budget of DKK 6.5 billion (approximately €870 million), to support the design, construction and operation of the new Thor offshore wind farm project. The project, which will have offshore wind capacity of minimum 800 Megawatt (MW) to maximum 1000 MW, will include the wind farm itself, the offshore substation and the grid connection from the offshore substation to the point of connection in the first onshore substation.

The aid will be awarded through a competitive tender and will take the form of a two-way contract-for-difference premium of the duration of 20 years. The premium will be paid on top of the market price for the electricity produced.

The Commission assessed the measure under EU state aid rules, in particular the 2014 Guidelines on state aid for environmental protection and energy.

The Commission found that the aid is necessary and has an incentive effect, as the Thor offshore wind project would not take place in the absence of the public support. Furthermore, the aid is proportionate and limited to the minimum necessary, as the level of aid will be set through a competitive auction. Finally, the Commission found that the positive effects of the measure, in particular the positive environmental effects, outweigh any possible negative effects in terms of distortions to competition, in particular, since the selection of the beneficiary and the award of the aid will be carried out through a competitive bidding process.

On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure is in line with EU State aid rules, as it will foster the development of renewable energy production from offshore wind technologies in Denmark and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the European Green Deal, and without unduly distorting competition.

Background

The Commission's 2014 Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection and Energy allow member states to support projects like the Thor Offshore Wind Farm. These rules aim at helping member states meet the EU's ambitious energy and climate targets at the least possible cost for taxpayers and without undue distortions of competition in the Single Market.

The Renewable Energy Directive established an EU-wide binding renewable energy target of 32% by 2030. The project contributes to reaching this target.

The recent EU Offshore Strategy identifies the importance of offshore wind as part of the Green Deal.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case numbers SA.57858 in the state aid register on the Commission's Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.

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EU

Commission and UN Environment Programme agree to reinforce co-operation in tackling the crises in climate, biodiversity and pollution

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The European Commission represented by Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) represented by its Executive Director Inger Andersen, agreed to enhanced co-operation between the two institutions for the period 2021-2025. A stronger focus on the promotion of circular economy, the protection of biodiversity and the fight against pollution lie at the heart of the new agreement for greater cooperation. Commissioner Sinkevičius said: “I welcome this new phase of co-operation with the UN Environment Programme that will help us to implement the European Green Deal and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, but also to form a strong alliance ahead of crucial summits, which are to take place later in the year.”

In a virtual session, Commissioner Sinkevičius and Executive Director Andersen signed a new Annex to an existing already since 2014 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The signing of this document is very timely. It takes place following the fifth UN Environment Assembly meeting last week and the launch of the Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resources Efficiency (GACERE), while the global community seeks to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the pressing climate, resource and biodiversity emergencies. The partners underscored the need to mobilise all areas of society to achieve a green-digital transition towards a sustainable future. More information is in the news release.

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Agriculture

CAP: New report on fraud, corruption and misuse of EU agricultural funds must be wake up call

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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.

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