8 Jan 2016

Is EU’s agriculture policy ‘fit for purpose’?

Greening, investment in rural development and policy simplification were the promises on which the EU failed to deliver. Photo: Marek Jobda
By Trees Robijns

2015 was a year of great promise and high hopes from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Unfortunately, the EU did not deliver on most of them: greening implementation was stuck in legal loopholes, investment in rural development was lacking, the simplification of the CAP failed to focus on major issues with the policy, and farmers have been rioting as usual.  

So what does all of this mean for 2016? Our expectations are low in general: the focus will be on further simplification with a special evaluation of greening measures. Commissioner Hogan has announced a public consultation on greening – hopefully this will address both the bureaucratic angle and the actual environmental delivery of the measures.

The BirdLife partnership together with the EEB membership is preparing a set of factsheets on Rural Development Plans, evaluating their worth for biodiversity and nature. These will be officially presented at a conference in February.

The current system of integrating environmental protection into other funds has also not worked well. Should we instead have a separate fund for nature managed by environment ministries, or should we overhaul the current system, with co-management of funds and better integration of environmental objectives into other policies? The jury is still out on this.

2016 will also be important for tackling the relationship between agriculture and climate change (farming  contributes 10% of total EU emissions). Some important pieces of legislation should be published on Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry that could change the direction of the discourse from the one currently being dominated by the trade and production boosting agenda of many Member States to one where agriculture needs to limit its footprint and maybe also production in certain sectors. However, getting all the countries to agree to the same rules won’t happen without a fight. Concepts of 'climate smart' agriculture should be handled with care.

For biofuels, 2015 marked the end of a long awaited discussion on biofuel production and their displacement of agriculture production (so called ILUC, or indirect land use change). With the introduction of a cap on their subsidies, the EU showed that first generation biofuels produced on agricultural land are no longer a part of the future.

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In the mix of policies being introduced next year, a big debate will be on biofuels and their sustainability, which will tie into the discussion on other forms of bioenergy, be it from wood or annual agricultural crops; all will need to be re-evaluated equally.

Some Member States are also already pre-empting this discussion by setting targets nationally until 2030, while others are still considering how to cap biofuels at a lower level than set at the EU level.

As the EU presidency moves from Luxembourg to the Netherlands, we need a good, open and honest debate with all stakeholders about the CAP based on five points so often touted by the fitness check: its effectiveness, efficiency, coherence with other EU policies, relevance and the added value of an EU-wide policy against national ones. Essentially, the EU would finally have to ask itself (and answer) the question: Is the CAP fit for purpose?