New research published today shows that the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is failing the environment, society and the economy.

There is just over a week to go before the release of much-anticipated European Commission plans for CAP reform.

The findings show that EU farm policy completely fails to satisfactorily address the challenges of climate change and that it is not up to the task of halting environmental degradation, reducing the dramatic decline of biodiversity, or providing adequate ecosystem services in the EU.

23 experts assessed 450 peer-reviewed scientific papers to find out whether the CAP delivers on its own goals, what its real impact on the ground is, and whether it is an efficient use of EU taxpayers’ money.

The research was commissioned by three NGOs that closely scrutinise EU farm policy – the European Environmental Bureau, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia, and NABU – who say the vast amounts of knowledge that exists on how the CAP impacts society, the economy and the environment is not properly considered by policymakers.

The European Commission’s refusal to carry out a proper evaluation of EU farm policy – despite a recommendation to do so from a key European Commission advisory group made up of representatives from business, social partners and civil society – also served as a catalyst for the research. The researchers used the same criteria used by the European Commission when it evaluates policies.

The study also showed that direct payments as income support receive the largest budget allocation without sufficient justification or clear links to CAP objectives.

Study co-author Dr. Sebastian Lakner, Research Associate at the Chair for Agricultural Policy Department for Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, University of Goettingen, said:

The CAP of 2017 is not fit for purpose. The largest part of the CAP are the direct payments. The European Commission has failed to justify this huge spend of taxpayers’ money with a reasonable argument. And consequently, reliable indicators and statistics to evaluate this policy are still missing. The 2017 direct payments still produce misallocations and inconsistencies.”

The study also shows that the CAP does not adequately support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – despite the fact that EU leaders committed to holding them up as guiding principles just over a year ago at a UN summit in New York.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Guy Pe’er, iDiv research centre, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ and Leipzig University said:

“Our assessment shows that the CAP contains some useful instruments, but it suffers from an inflation in objectives and instruments, some of which conflict with each other. It is therefore not surprising that the outcomes are mixed at best. Our results for efficiency, internal coherence and relevance were quite alarming, and when examined from a sustainability perspective and the SDGs, all in all, our assessment shows that the CAP cannot deliver.”

To remedy the CAP’s failings the researchers call for a coherent set of objectives in the new policy that are structured around social, economic, and environmental sustainability which they say is an approach that would be both more effective, and more likely to win support from both farmers and the broader public.

Dr. Sebastian Lakner, added: 

“From my perspective we must help with the transformation to a more sustainable way of farming, stop the loss of biodiversity and cope with the huge challenge of climate change. To achieve progress on these challenges, the EU Commission has to introduce an ambitious reform proposal.”

The CAP currently makes up the largest part, almost 40%, of the EU budget but given that the EU’s finances are set to shrink post-Brexit and the Commission has a strategy for EU spending to be better ‘focused on results’, it is a safe bet that how money is allocated to farm policy will be significantly shaken up.

Faustine Bas-Defossez, Policy Manager for Agriculture & Bioenergy, European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said:

“The upcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must be based on a proper assessment of the impact of subsidies. Without such an evidence-based approach it will be impossible for the Commission to justify continuing to pour such huge amounts of EU taxpayers’ money into the CAP. We hope the Commission takes this research into account in its own assessment of the policy and concludes that to support farmers’ shift to sustainable farming it is essential to move away from funding harmful activities through perverse payments.”

All eyes will be on the Commission next week (29 November) to find out what is in store for the future of food production and consumption in Europe.