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CAP Strategic Plans: New assessment shows Member States fall short of saving nature

After more than three years of co-decision processes where the European Council, Commission, and Parliament worked on the new the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the legislative process is finally coming to a close. The European Parliament is set to vote to approve the CAP on the 23th of November and the Council early in December.

Many scientists and NGOs, including BirdLife, have been raising the alarm about further weakening the already limp environmental ambitions of the CAP reform and the fact that this generously funded policy will fail short of what is needed to tackle the unprecedented climate and biodiversity crises the planet is facing.

But these warnings fell on deaf ears of the European Commission throughout the process. In fact, this CAP deal was described by the Commission’s Vice President Timmermans as a “real shift towards a greener & fairer CAP: we’ll dedicate more farmland to biodiversity, reward farmers who go the extra mile for climate & nature, and more funds will flow to small farms.”

To be fair to Mr Timmermans and his optimism: in theory and in an ideal world, the new legal framework does allow for a greener and fairer CAP, as it will be implemented through CAP Strategic Plans that are currently being drafted by the 27 EU countries. However, as history has shown with previous CAPs, when Member States have the chance to use EU money to increase environmental ambitions, they tend to do the very opposite.

BirdLife Europe and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) have worked with agriculture experts to understand what is really happening on the ground. National experts from 22 countries screened the available drafts against seven key criteria stemming from the EEB’s 10 Tests for a Green Deal-compatible CAP. Based on multiple-choice questions, this assessment was translated into a traffic light benchmarking system of how countries score on each criterion. Our snapshot of the ambition of the national CAP Strategic Plans is based on the best available information by the 10th of November, and the final assessment might be different.

As the scorecards below show, the overwhelming majority of countries (18) scored ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’ in all given categories, painting a grim picture of the overall ambition. In addition, more than half of the countries didn’t provide enough information on at least one of the criteria. The fact that environmental stakeholders didn’t have access to key aspects of the draft plans six weeks before the submission deadline is deeply concerning.

Space for nature

Almost half of the countries (10) didn’t put forward sufficiently ambitious targets and adequate measures to reach the target of 10% of agricultural areas under high diversity landscape features. Only 5 countries put in place satisfactory targets but proposed measures they are not likely to deliver on. None of the countries received a top score on this criteria, while 7 countries didn’t have enough information to come to a judgement on the matter.

Protection of grasslands

Only 3 countries put in place effective measures to protect grasslands through conditionality. In the case of the remaining 17 countries, they either didn’t introduce effective protection of grasslands (6) or gaps were still present (9). Information was not available for 2 countries.

Protection of peatlands and wetlands

None of the assessed countries introduced effective measures to protect peatlands and wetlands. In 7 countries, the proposed measures have the potential to slow down their degradation but are not likely to stop it completely. Information from 11 countries was missing.

Money for biodiversity protection and climate action

None of the countries indicated that well-funded and well-designed measures are in place to adequately address climate and biodiversity objectives. On the contrary, most countries were under the impression that the proposed voluntary management schemes, such as eco-schemes, were either insufficient or lacked funding to halt the loss of biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their countries.

Harmful subsidies

18 national experts were quite or very worried about the presence of risky measures and insufficient safeguards to mitigate the risks of harmful subsidies.

Involvement of national NGOs

With the exception of Finland, experts from all assessed countries rated the quality of the stakeholder process as poor or very poor.

This assessment raises serious concerns about the level of ambition of the draft CAP Strategic Plans. It also questions the European Commission strategy to rely on the Member States and their CAP Strategic Plans to deliver on the Green Deal targets. Member States have less than two months to submit their final plans. They must ensure that they deliver on their promise of greater environmental and climate ambition, including on the Green Deal targets all Member States agreed on. The European Commission must make sure that this policy, which is a third of the total EU budget, delivers for our climate and nature, instead of continuing to fund business as usual and exacerbating the demise of nature.

National CAP Strategic Plans that do not deliver or are in breach of EU laws should not be approved by the European Commission.

Image credits: Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) ©Yves Adams

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Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.