Auditors’ setback for Hogan CAP plan

Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan

By Stephen Cadogan

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has picked a number of holes in the Common Agricultural Policy reform proposals advanced by Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan.

The overall assessment of the proposals is that they should be “greener”, rigorously performance-based, and more accountable.

The Auditors are unhappy with the largest part of the CAP budget continuing to be direct payments to farmers, based on a given amount of hectares of land owned or used.

“This instrument is not appropriate for addressing many environmental concerns, nor is it the most efficient way of supporting viable income,” noted the ECA, this week.

The ECA contributes to improving EU financial governance by publishing opinions on proposals.

These opinions can be used by the legislative authorities, the European Parliament and the Council representing member states, to arrive at decisions.

The ECA warned of limitations in the proposed redefinition of EU eligibility for CAP payments, and said it is likely to lead to a weakened assurance framework.

They said it remained unclear from the proposals how a greener CAP could be assessed or measured.

And the Commission’s estimate of the CAP’s contribution to EU climate change objectives appears unrealistic, say the auditors.

Last month, Commissioner Hogan said: “We are now entering crunch time in relation to the EU budget and the future CAP proposal.”

Critical ECA comments are likely to come as a surprise to him, with his proposals having been first signalled in a communication on the future of food and farming published a year ago, after an exhaustive consultation process with citizens, policymakers and stakeholders.

He said: “We believe that our proposal for a new delivery model will lead to real simplification and better results for our farmers, who will have clearer instructions adapted to national needs and less red tape in their daily work.”

He has been travelling throughout Europe to seek support for the CAP budget and for what he calls the Commission’s “vision for how EU policy can help to feed the global population in a sustainable way”.

But the European Court of Auditors this week had few kind words to say about the proposals.

They acknowledged the inclusion of tools to address environment and climate objectives, but said they are neither clearly defined nor translated into quantified targets.

The auditors welcomed a shift from emphasis on compliance towards a focus on performance, but said the proposal does not have the necessary elements of an effective performance system.

“The move towards a performance-based assessment would not remove the need to check legality and regularity”, said João Figueiredo, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the opinion.

He even warned the proposals might undermine the application of EU law.

The auditors said the proposals lack a robust external system of control, and this would weaken Commission accountability.

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