The Court of Auditors has published a report arguing that the proposed CAP reforms are too complex and will not achieve the desired aim of simplification. They might not end the controversial practice of 'sofa farming'.
The Court recognises the efforts made by the Commission to simplify the provisions of the CAP and to address a number of observations made by the Parliament, the Council and the Court. However, the Court considers that the legislative framework of this policy remains too complex.
For example, six distinct layers of rules govern rural development expenditure. With respect to cross compliance, the Court considers that, in spite of the proposed reorganisation, the complexity of this policy continues to make it difficult for paying agencies and beneficiaries to administer.
In spite of the claim that it focuses on results, the policy remains fundamentally focussed on spending and controlling expenditure and therefore oriented more towards compliance than performance. In particular, the specific objectives of direct payments to farmers are not set out in the articles of the relevant regulation, nor are the expected results of those provisions or the type of indicators to be used to measure such results.
With respect to rural development, the Court has underlined the importance of setting out specific concrete objectives that the proposed measures are designed to achieve and of ensuring that support is targeted to rural areas where the aid is most needed. Similarly, the objectives and qualitative and quantitative results that are expected of the implementation of cross compliance obligations as well as of the ‘greening’ component of direct payments are not adequately laid down. The disclosure of such objectives would help focus the policy on delivering the desired results.
The Court has noted the Commission’s intention to direct CAP payments to “active farmers” and to achieve a more balanced distribution of direct payments among beneficiaries. However, the Court considers that the risk persists that payments may continue to be made to beneficiaries who do not exercise any agricultural activity. Furthermore, the Court notes that the redistribution effect of the reduction of the amount aid when such aid exceeds certain levels (“capping”) will be limited.
Furthermore, the Court has doubts as to whether some of these proposed measures can be implemented effectively without imposing an excessive administrative burden on national managing agencies and on farmers. As a way out of this difficulty, the Court suggests adopting a general and simple definition of what constitutes an “active farmer” and to entrust the Commission with the task of managing the implementation of the resulting legislation with a view to reaching the high level objectives set out in the Treaty. These objectives are to increase agricultural productivity as well as increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture.
The Court notes that the Commission estimates that the proposed reform is likely to result in an increase of 15 per cent in the costs of managing the direct payment schemes which will be borne by Member States. The Court notes that no information is available on the extent to which such additional costs might be offset by increased management or policy efficiency.