13 Dec 2018

No time to lose, European Council!

The MFF can tackle the challenges the planet faces

Field in Belgium
© Diane Appels
By Honey Kohan

Open Letter by BirdLife Europe, the European Environmental Bureau and Greenpeace to the Heads of State and Government of the European Union Member States

“Leaders, you must lead”, Sir David Attenborough said just last week when speaking at the United Nations Climate Conference in Katowice. To the Heads of States and Government of the European Union member states, gathering the 13 and 14 December for a European Council in Brussels, we say equally emphatically, heed his warning!

The evidence gets more and more overwhelming that the life supporting ecosystems of our planet are collapsing. Two of the biggest challenges facing mankind are the loss of biodiversity and climate change. The United Nations Biodiversity Conference that just took place in Sharm El Sheikh again showed the urgency to act. But prominent leaders remain shockingly silent.

The meeting of the European Council offers a good chance to deliver at the European level. One agenda item is the EU Budget (Multiannual Financial Framework, MFF). Civil society organisations have criticized the European Commission’s MFF proposals for financing unsustainable policies.

  • The proposed MFF ignores the biodiversity crisis and the need for a sustainable future of Europe. Despite evidence showing i.a. the huge funding gap for the Natura 2000 network, it does not foresee a dedicated financing instrument for biodiversity.
  • The proposed MFF sticks to the traditional architecture of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It concentrates cuts on the CAP’s more targeted and effective rural development pillar, whereas the evidence increasingly shows that first pillar direct payment spending is inefficient, wasteful and environmentally harmful.
  • The proposed goal for climate mainstreaming (25% of EU expenditure) is insufficient to deliver the Paris commitments. Even worse, the European Commission proposes to count much of the climate harmful CAP subsidies as climate funding, a perversion that would destroy the EU’s credibility both with citizens and at global climate negotiations.

As leaders you should not simply welcome the preparatory work on the negotiating box while remaining silent on substantial issues. Business as usual is not an option, it cannot tackle the planetary challenges we face. The MFF is not only an accounting tool but a means to achieve political objectives. It is in your hands to make polluters pay, and to shape a European budget that serves the interest of nature and all citizens.

On behalf of the signing organisations, representing millions of citizens all over Europe, we ask you to:

  • Introduce binding ring-fencing of 15bn Euro per annum to meet nature conservation objectives in the countryside (e.g. implementation of Natura 2000) and halt biodiversity loss. The heading “Natural Resources and Environment” must live up to its promise.
  • Shift spending from the largely inefficient and ineffective first pillar of the CAP to its second pillar and make all spending dependent on the respect for environmental legislation. The debate is not about “taking money away from farmers”, but about spending efficiency in the interest of all citizens, farmers included.
  • Ensure 1% of the budget is dedicated to the highly successful LIFE programme so that it can play the much needed role of catalyst and help leverage other EU and national funds.
  • Transform the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund into a true ocean conservation fund by excluding any subsidies that aggravate overfishing. Instead, ring-fence funds for the ecological restoration of our seas.
  • Increase the climate mainstreaming goal to at least 40% of the whole EU Budget (whereby only actual but not planned expenditure should be counted). Exclude spending on projects that are not in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, such as unabated fossil fuels infrastructure and environmentally harmful subsidies.

Dear Heads of State or Government, it is indeed time to lead!


Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy, BirdLife Europe

Patrick ten Brink, EU Policy Director, European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

Jorgo Riss, Director, Greenpeace European Unit