Greening: is EU agriculture more environmentally friendly?

Monday 19 March 2018

On Wednesday 21 February 2018, European Court of Auditors (ECA) Member Samo Jereb presented to the Committee of Agriculture of the European Parliament the findings of an ECA Special Report on Greening[1], which examines whether this new scheme actually had a positive impact on the environment and on climate mitigation.

'Greening', a major innovation brought in under the 2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, aims at making the direct payments system more environmentally-friendly[2]. But the report, as its title “Greening: a more complex income support scheme, not yet environmentally effective“ suggests, finds that Greening, as currently implemented, is unlikely to significantly enhance the CAP’s environmental and climate performance.

The reasons put forward by the Auditors are the European Commission’s lack of clear and sufficiently ambitious targets, as well as the complexity of the policy itself and the fact that Member States are not using the flexibility offered by the Commission. The complexity that Greening adds to the CAP is therefore not justified in regards of the potential positive results for the environment.

Moreover, during his presentation, Mr. Jereb mentioned that Greening in its current legislative state is generally undemanding and that most agricultural practices already fulfil the requirements. This means that 66% of EU farmers can benefit from a Green payment without taking any additional environmental measure. The ECA estimated that Greening led to changes in farming practices on only around 5 % of all EU farmland.

A European Commission report from 2017 [3] looks more specifically at the effectiveness of Environmental Focus Areas (EFA). As a reminder, one of Greening’s obligation sis to ensure that at least 5% of arable areas of farms exceeding 15 ha is an 'ecological focus area' dedicated to ecologically beneficial elements. This report concludes that while there are variations between the different types of EFA, all of them show significant potential for improving the sustainability of the Common Agricultural Policy. However, it is up to the Member States to draw up, based on the common list, a list of EFA according to national priorities and farming systems. The farmers then choose from this national list the measures they want to apply[4]. But, as stated by Mr. Jereb, they tend not to use the flexibility offered to them and only aim at reducing the burden put on their farmers by recommending growing carbon-fixing crops.

If some Members of the European Parliament (MEP) seemed to consider this report as  proof of the  inefficiency of Greening, others, like Michel Dantin (France, EPP), sees in these 5% an encouraging result: "We voted this CAP reform at the very end of 2013 and, in most Member States, it wasn't applied before 2015. [...] If this report concerns the year 2016, we are only at the second year of application of this policy and I find that 5% of EU farmland evolving towards good environmental status during this period is already a significant step." They noted that environmental change is typically something that takes time and that environmental benefits are unlikely to appear in such a short notice. Most of the MEPs, however, appeared to agree with the main recommendation of the ECA: the EU Commission should define clearer and more ambitious objectives.

If the interpretation of the results of the report differs amongst the MEPs, having identified the problematic aspects of the policy should not make Greening appear as a total failure but as an encouraging opportunity for the EU to progress towards a more sustainable agriculture. If it is indeed difficult to evaluate the positive impact of environmental measures on such a short period, the European Commission had already announced in its communication called “Future of Food and Farming” its intention to review the actual structure of greening[5]. It would give Member States the opportunity to define the means to reach the objectives set by the EU for the climate and the environment, thus reducing the administrative burden that the actual policy is putting on them and on the farmers. The pitfall of nationalisation should however be avoided. Nevertheless, it remains a certainty that the CAP must evolve while pursuing its core principles: supplying a stable source of healthy, sustainably produced food while providing farmers with a decent standard of living.



[1] https://www.eca.europa.eu/Lists/ECADocuments/SR17_21/SR_GREENING_EN.pdf

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/direct-support/greening_en

[3] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1490786763554&uri=COM:2017:152:FIN

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/direct-support/greening_en

[5] https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/sites/agriculture/files/future-of-cap/future_of_food_and_farming_communication_en.pdf

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