Direct payments made to farmers for taking care of the environment on farms have not led to greener farm practices, an EU spending audit has concluded.

Today’s audit into the Common Agricultural Policy’s so-called ‘greening’ payments was carried out by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) – the EU’s independent financial watchdog which looks at how EU money is spent.

Faustine Bas-Defossez, Policy Manager for Agriculture and Bioenergy at the European Environmental Bureau, said:

“These new findings are yet more proof that the current Common Agricultural Policy is not working. This report is a warning cry to the European Commission that farm policy must be redesigned. It’s time to move away from untargeted and even harmful annual payments and shift to a truly results-oriented scheme tied to real objectives and strong accountability and not just green window dressing.”

The greening scheme was introduced when the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was reformed in 2013 and included a payment that would ensure at least 5% of total EU arable land is dedicated to nature protection. However, research published just two weeks ago showed EU farm policy does not does not do enough to halt environmental degradation, reduce biodiversity loss, or address climate change.

While almost 40% of the EU’s budget is currently spent on the CAP every year, this figure is likely to shrink at the next reform of the policy with restraints on the EU’s finances such as Brexit and the Commission’s strategy for EU spending to be ‘better focused on results’.

EU governments will agree on the bloc’s next budget in spring 2018 before the Commission publishes new legislative proposals on the future farm policy.

Among the recommendations made by the European Court of Auditors is for the Commission to ensure the next CAP contributes to the EU’s environmental and climate-related objectives through specific targets.

However, environmental groups have pointed out that there is little mention of how unsustainable agriculture practices have led to a disastrous state of nature on farms in Europe in the Commission’s plans for reforming EU farm policy after 2020, published on 29 November.

Faustine Bas-Defossez added:

“It is worrying that despite the mounting evidence that throws into question the legitimacy of direct payments, the European Commission still favoured making them the centrepiece of its plan for the future of farming.”

The European Court of Auditors also call for more accountability when it comes to how member states implement greening rules and for financial penalties for those farmers that don’t meet basic environmental rules.

Speaking to Euractiv, a European Commission spokesperson said:

“The European Commission takes note of the Special Report of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) on greening, which acknowledges a number of positive and some negative aspects arising from the introduction of the greening measures. Based on its own evaluation of greening, the Commission has already identified a number of areas where improvements can be made and some of these improvements will be implemented as of 1 January 2018.”