The common agricultural policy (CAP) should take better account of water concerns, according to EU auditors.

A report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) reveals that the EU has been only partially successful in integrating water policy goals into the common agricultural policy (CAP).

The audit highlighted weaknesses in the two instruments currently used to integrate water concerns into the CAP (namely cross-compliance and rural development) and pointed out delays and weaknesses in the implementation of the Water Framework Directive.

“In Europe, agriculture is, quite naturally, a major user of water – around one-third of total water use, and is a source of pressure on water resources, for example through nutrient pollution in water,” stated Mr Kevin Cardiff, the ECA Member responsible for the report, “While there has been progress, the Commission and Member States need to better integrate water policy concerns with the common agricultural policy to ensure long-term sustainable water use”.

The CAP represents just under 40% of the EU budget (over €50 billion for 2014) and through it the EU seeks to influence agricultural practices affecting water.

The EU auditors examined whether the EU’s water policy objectives are properly and effectively reflected in the common agricultural policy, both at strategic and implementation levels. This involved analysing two instruments which are being used to integrate the EU’s water policy objectives into the CAP: cross-compliance, a mechanism linking certain CAP payments with specific environmental requirements, and the rural development fund, which provides for financial incentives for actions going beyond compulsory legislation to improve water quality.

The EU auditors found that cross-compliance and rural development funding have thus far had a positive impact in supporting the policy objectives to improve water quantity and quality, but these instruments are limited, relative to the policy ambitions set for the CAP, and the even more ambitious goals set by the CAP regulations for the 2014-2020 period.

The auditors also concluded that there is insufficient knowledge, at the level of the EU institutions and in the Member States, about the pressures placed on water by agricultural activities and how those pressures are evolving.