“In Europe, agriculture is, quite naturally, a major user of water - around one-third of total water use, and is a source of pressure on water resources, for example through nutrient pollution in water,” stated Mr Kevin Cardiff, the ECA Member responsible for the report, “While there has been progress, the Commission and Member States need to better integrate water policy concerns with the common agricultural policy to ensure long-term sustainable water use”.
The CAP represents just under 40 % of the EU budget (over € 50 billion for 2014) and through the CAP the EU seeks to influence agricultural practices affecting water.
The EU auditors examined whether the EU’s water policy objectives are properly and effectively reflected in the CAP, both at strategic and implementation levels. This involved analysing two instruments which are being used to integrate the EU’s water policy objectives into the CAP: cross-compliance, a mechanism linking certain CAP payments with specific environmental requirements, and the rural development fund, which provides for financial incentives for actions going beyond compulsory legislation to improve water quality.
The EU auditors found that cross-compliance and rural development funding have thus far had a positive impact in supporting the policy objectives to improve water quantity and quality, but these instruments are limited, relative to the policy ambitions set for the CAP, and the even more ambitious goals set by the CAP regulations for the 2014-2020 period.
The auditors also concluded that there is insufficient knowledge, at the level of the EU institutions and in the Member States, about the pressures placed on water by agricultural activities and how those pressures are evolving.
“Member States need to do more to align their Rural Development Programmes and their actions to protect their water resources, and delays in implementing the Water Framework Directive need to be addressed,” Mr Cardiff said, “ and while feedback already received from the Commission is positive, there is plenty yet to be done.”
European Court of Auditors (ECA) special reports are published throughout the year, presenting the results of selected audits of specific EU budgetary areas or management topics.
This special report (No 4/2014) entitled “Integration of EU water policy objectives with the CAP: a partial success”,assessed whether the objectives of EU water policy had been successfully integrated into the CAP but found that to date they had only partially been so. This was due to a mismatch between the ambition of the policy objectives and the instruments used to effect change. The audit highlighted weaknesses in the two instruments currently used by the Commission to integrate water concerns into the CAP (namely cross-compliance and rural development) and pointed out delays and weaknesses in the implementation of the Water Framework Directive.
While the EU auditors concluded that cross-compliance and rural development funding have led to positive results in improving water quantity and quality, they noted that these instruments are limited. They are not commensurate with the policy ambitions set for the CAP and the even more ambitious goals set by the CAP regulations for the 2014-2020 period. The ECA also found that monitoring and evaluation systems, both directly related to the CAP and those providing more general data did not provide the information necessary to fully inform policy-making as regards pressures on water coming from agricultural activities, though noting some useful initiatives.
Based on its findings, the ECA recommended that:
- the EU Commission propose the necessary modifications to the current instruments (cross-compliance and rural development) or, where appropriate, new instruments capable of meeting the more ambitious goals with respect to the integration of water policy objectives into the CAP.
- Member States should address the weaknesses highlighted in relation to cross-compliance and improve their use of rural development funding to better meet the water policy objectives;
- the Commission and Member states must address the delays in implementation of the Water Framework Directive and improve the quality of their river basin management plans by describing individual measures and making them sufficiently clear and concrete at an operational level; and
- the Commission should ensure it has information that, at the very least, is capable of measuring the evolution of the pressures placed on water by agricultural practices and the Member States themselves are requested to provide data on water in a more timely, reliable and consistent manner.