This article is part of our special report Delivering on CAP strategic plans.
The European Commission has dismissed calls for more transparency in the drafting of the Common Agricultural Policy strategic plans, saying an excessive focus on this risks overburdening the process and missing the big picture.
Through these plans, the drafts of which should be submitted to the Commission by the end of the year, EU countries will set out how they intend to meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.
These plans are also the key engine for delivering on the Commission’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, which is currently not legally binding.
The drafting of these plans has been the subject of intense scrutiny, with stakeholders expressing concerns over the lack of transparency in the process.
Criticising the Commission’s “culture of opacity” in previous CAP processes, civil society organisations Birdlife and ClientEarth sent a joint letter earlier in October calling on the Commission to change its practice and greatly improve the transparency of the approval of the CAP strategic plans.
“Citizens have a right to follow the assessment and approval process of the future strategic plans, especially as the observation letters must be adequately taken into account by member states,” the letter said.
However, asked during a recent EURACTIV event what information the Commission is planning to share during the drafting of the CAP strategic plans, Tassos Haniotis, deputy director-general of the European Commission’s DG AGRI, said this focus on transparency was not “pertinent” and risked overburdening the process.
“If we go into the process where everything becomes available, the only thing is it will overburden the process without really helping,” he warned, adding that this focus on proceduralism risks getting “bogged down” and missing the bigger picture.
“What’s the point of getting stuck on issues like this and miss[ing] the big picture?” he questioned, adding that more energy should instead be given to a “very concrete and factual debate about what works and what doesn’t work”.
“We have to address very specific challenges we have in the public domain, the knowledge of what works, what doesn’t work, and how. And instead of that, we are bogged down again on how much money will go here and by which data we’re going to make an assumption,” Haniotis said.
As such, while it is clear that the strategic plans must be made publicly available, what is made available for scrutiny in the drafting of the strategies will have to be considered and shared on the basis of Commission guidelines, he said.
However, this answer was insufficient for Green MEP Thomas Waitz.
Pointing out that the CAP represents more than a third of the EU budget, he said there was an “obligation” for both the Commission and member states to be as transparent as possible, and this includes transparency on who is actually influencing the negotiation process.
“I think it’s not debatable. It’s an obligation,” Waitz stressed.
Likewise, Célia Nyssens, an agricultural policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), remarked that transparency is “not just a nice thing” but is “crucial for citizens and civil society to be able to scrutinise decisions that are made by their elected representatives”.
“And so we really need the commission to live up to the commitments that have been made at the highest political level and really have full transparency,” she urged, adding that this is needed for citizens to know where the money is being put and “call out decision-makers when they are saying one thing and doing a different thing”.
“We really need better transparency and full commitment from the Commission on this at all levels,” she said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]