In a report critical of many Member State agri-environment schemes, the European Court of Auditors has backed organic farming recognising that it is ‘demanding’ in terms of farm management, implemented over large geographical areas, with ‘well-document’ environmental benefits and should be considered as a third core element of future agri-environment programmes, complementing simple, generalised agri-environmental actions with a relatively low rate of aid and more demanding actions attracting a higher rate of aid and targeted to EU-level priority areas.
The report Is agri-environment support well designed and managed?’ (Special Report 7/2011, ECA, Luxembourg) was published on 19th September 2011. Given the key role that agri-environment policy plays as part of EU policy to respond to society’s increasing demand for environmental services, the report aimed to assess whether the policy is well designed and managed. The Court found that the conditions for assessing whether or not the objectives of the policy have been achieved are not in place. The systems for providing guidance to farmers were generally well implemented. However, considerable problems were identified concerning the aid amounts. Most expenditure was made on basic horizontal schemes without applying selection procedures and without clear decisions about the desirable degree of targeting. Although the audit identified good practices, the weaknesses found by the Court have hampered optimal achievement of the main objectives of agri-environment policy, namely contributing to EU-level priority areas (biodiversity, water, climate change) and improving the environment and the countryside.
Given the critical overall tone of the report, the findings in support of organic farming can be seen as particularly encouraging and add further weight to the case that organic farming should play a more central role in the next phase of CAP reform.
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