Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Auditors roast cross-compliance policy

The European Court of Auditors has published a strong critique of the way that cross-compliance policy, a key element in the reformed CAP, is executed by the Commission and the member states.

The Court carried out an audit in 2008 of the cross-compliance policy at the Commission and in seven Member States representing the diversity of agriculture across Europe. In the report which it recently adopted, the Court concludes that the objectives of this policy have not been defined in a specific, measurable, relevant, and realistic way, and that at farm level many obligations are still only for form’s sake and therefore have little chance of leading to the expected changes, whether reducing the size of payments or modifying farming practices.

More precisely, the Court finds that:
􀂃 the Member States have not translated all the cross-compliance standards into obligations applicable at farm level.
􀂃 monitoring whether these obligations are being respected is weak and in some cases non-existent. One of the reasons for this is that the checks are largely carried out during the summer months and a significant number of obligations relating to agricultural practices which occur during other seasons and cannot therefore be properly checked.
􀂃 the minimal reduction in direct payments seen to date stems both from monitoring weaknesses and an inadequate system of sanctions. For example, the audit found no breach of cross-compliance after carrying out 11 633 checks of the Birds Directive and 14 896 checks of the Habitats Directive over two years in four Member States.
􀂃 the introduction of cross-compliance has weakened key elements of the control and sanction system for rural development. In addition, the separation between cross-compliance and agri-environmental measures is not always clear.
􀂃 the data sent by the Member States to the Commission are unreliable and overestimate both the rate of monitoring of farmers and the farmers’ compliance rates. The Commission’s system for monitoring these data is incomplete and suffers in particular from the absence of performance indicators and baseline levels.

Overall, the Court considers that cross-compliance is a vital element of the CAP but concludes that it is not effective as currently managed by the Commission and implemented by the Member States. It states, 'If the public authorities wish cross-compliance to achieve its full effect, they must define specific and measurable objectives which can be translated into obligations that are controllable at farm level. The Court therefore recommends that the applicable rules should be simplified, clarified and prioritised.'

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