“Discussions of issues relating to water are based primarily on an economising perspective”

Read Gun Rudquist’s analysis of the EU’s common agricultural policy


Eutrophication demoted in the proposal for the EU's agricultural policy

As expected, the impact of agriculture on marine environments is not a high priority issue in the European Commission's draft for the new European common agricultural policy. Gun Rudquist from the Baltic Sea Centre at Stockholm University has, however, identified some positive aspects in the proposal.

Last week, a draft version of the new common agricultural policy (CAP) was leaked, followed quickly by the presentation of the proposal for the total EU budget for 2021 to 2027. This proposes a 5% cut in agricultural policy, implying a reduction of the so-called direct support for individual farmers.

Increased autonomy for Member States

It is expected that the formal CAP bill will be presented by the European Commission in May. The fundamental concepts and guidelines for the new CAP emerged in the autumn of 2017 with the announcement of a communication from the EC. The current draft for the bill substantiates a number of the initial concepts. One of these is to allow the Member States a higher level of decision-making in regard to CAP. Each Member State shall primarily present a strategy for how to achieve nine proposed objectives, encompassing areas such as increased competitiveness, employment and developing vibrant, rural areas and taking action to reduce climate change, making efficient use of natural resources and preserving landscapes and biodiversity.

Major focus on growth and competitiveness

It is unclear how the nine objectives are to be assessed and adapted to each other, but with a view to the current Commission’s strong focus on growth, it is highly likely that competitiveness and growth will have priority over various environmental issues.

The proposal still encompasses a number of elements from the current CAP, such as economic direct support for all farmers and a rural development programme allowing Member States to support various environmental measures. The proposal does, however, contain new features. Among these is a proposal to replace the current obligatory environmental requirements or greening obligations with a voluntary and so-called eco-scheme. The EC has also proposed complementary redistributive income support for sustainability (CRISS). It remains to see how these diverse elements interact.

The marine environment has a subordinated role in the EC's proposal

The link between agriculture and the marine environment has, as expected, been subordinated in the EC's proposal for the new agricultural policy. From a marine environment perspective, the following is also worth noting:

  • Discussions of issues relating to water are based primarily on an economising perspective; in other words, water must be saved but also reused. This is naturally an important issue, and it is about time it was raised. However, it appears that the focus is primarily on quantity and less on quality. In other words, the issues discussed relate more to lack of water rather than water pollution.
  • It appears that the impact on water in agricultural landscapes and adjacent lakes and ocean waters is a subordinate issue. The question of eutrophication receives much less emphasis than, for example, the climate. At the same time, the proposal recurrently refers to the climate and the environment, both which encompass eutrophication.
  • With the rural development programme, the proposal still covers compensation for farmers who fulfil the requirements in the framework directive for water – comprising a range of measures from catch crops to ploughing in the spring.

Anticipation for tool to increase nutrient exploitation

The EC’s proposal also mentions some kind of farm sustainability tool for nutrients to control utilisation of nutrients. At best, this may provide the long-awaited tool needed to increase nutrient utilisation. At the time of writing, only around 50% of the nutrients fed to fields with crops are fully exploited – and this applies to the entire Baltic Sea region. The exploitation rate naturally varies significantly both between and within countries. However, an increase in exploitation is absolutely essential if we are to minimise the risk of nutrient leakage, resulting in eutrophication of the Baltic Sea.

All we can do is wait in anticipation for the proper bill, which will be fully debated as soon as it has been issued. The decision-making process is going to take some time. It is hardly likely that any decisions will be made before the EU Member States have agreed on the new budget after 2020 – which in itself will be tough nut to crack with the impact of Brexit on the EU budget.


Gun Rudquist

Head of Advocacy and Analysis