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Study: Mixed impact of green measures in EU’s farming subsidies scheme

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Most EU countries have not used the extra freedom they have under the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to implement measures that effectively benefit the environment, a new study found.

Read the original German story here.

Making the CAP more environmentally and climate-friendly was the aim of the latest reform, which came into force in January 2023 and includes ‘eco-schemes’ through which farmers can receive extra money for implementing certain measures.

However, it is up to the individual EU countries to decide which environmental and climate measures will be rewarded and how much money they will receive.

A new study by the German environmental organisation NABU and the German Small Farmers Association (Working Group for Farming) took stock of how effective the 27 member states’ lists of measures are – and the results are very mixed.

“There is a great diversity and variability in the eco-schemes,” NABU’s Max Meister told Euractiv.

Mixed environmental action

For the study, the two organisations compared data on the distribution of funds from the 28 different strategic plans – 26 member states, plus two for Belgium- one for Flanders and one for Wallonia.

According to Meister, it makes sense for member states to promote different practices – after all, “Finland has very different conditions to Malta, for example.”

At the same time, the positive environmental impact of the measures varies significantly from country to country and is sometimes very low.

For example, many EU countries are spending large sums of money to promote agricultural practices that barely go beyond the status quo or the so-called Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) standards – the minimum requirements for receiving EU agricultural funds.

“That simply doesn’t deliver the big environmental benefits,” said Meister. This is the case with many measures in Austria, for example, he explained.

At the same time, according to the study, many environmental regulations are not designed to deliver environmental benefits anyway and instead reward measures against antibiotic resistance, for example.

Setbacks and progress

Italy and Romania, for example, spend a lot of money on such measures.

“Here it seems as if member states are distributing money for the sake of distributing money,” Meister criticised.

He added that France has also used the additional freedoms granted to member states by the new CAP to fall below the level of environmental protection achieved in the previous funding period.

According to Meister, there are good approaches in the Netherlands and Slovakia, and according to the study, Germany is also among the countries that offer a catalogue of environmental regulations with fairly strong environmental benefits.

However, these data do not yet reflect the extent to which voluntary schemes are actually accepted by farms. Early data suggest that this is a problem in Germany in particular, while the laxer measures in Austria, for example, are well accepted.

While it remains to be seen whether eco-schemes will become more popular in Germany, Meister believes that lessons can already be derived from studying the 28 plans.

For instance, the lesson that the additional freedom has not only brought advantages and flexibility for the member states but, more importantly, it has allowed national governments to pursue a lower level of environmental ambition.

Better control and support

“This trend towards renationalisation is problematic in this respect,” says Meister.

At the same time, there has been little innovation in the design of the measures, with many measures being taken from the previous CAP or only slightly modified, and the new approach has not yet contributed to reducing bureaucracy either, he added.

To achieve improvements, the report proposes several recommendations for action.

“On the one hand, we need a more powerful, real evaluation system from the Union to accompany the member states,” said Meisner, adding that, so far, most member states have not made it clear how their chosen eco-schemes contribute to the stated objectives of the CAP.

“But the member states could also be given a kind of handbook in which, for example, innovative measures, successful measures, effective, targeted measures are compiled,” he added.

Meanwhile, federal and state agriculture ministers will meet in Kiel on Thursday and Friday (21-22 September) to discuss, among other things, adjustments to the German CAP strategic plan for 2024 and 2025.

However, changes to the CAP’s fundamental architecture and the relationship between Brussels and the member states are not expected until the next CAP reform, which will be negotiated in the next few years and is expected to come into force in 2028.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

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