Press release: 8 July 2020

Lawyers warn Commission over ‘illegal’ and conscious failure to align CAP reform proposal with Green Deal

Environmental lawyers at ClientEarth have warned the European Commission that its failure to align the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform proposal with new climate, environment and biodiversity commitments under the European Green Deal (EGD) may be illegal.

In a letter to Vice President Timmermans, ClientEarth CEO James Thornton and Head of Agriculture Marc Pittie say the CAP reform proposal, with its current lack of binding targets, is likely to neutralise the potential power of new strategies under the EGD – including the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies – and is therefore set to undermine the European Green deal at large.

According to the lawyers, “failure to act” to resolve this inconsistency may be a violation of the Commission’s legal duties.

Mr Pittie said: “This situation is bewildering. The European Commission is proposing to spend around a third of the EU budget on a reformed CAP which it knows to be inconsistent with the ambition of the European Green Deal – even though it also knows there are ways to bridge the gaps, and it has the power to propose to the Parliament and Council to do so.

“But the Commission is stubbornly ploughing ahead with an inadequate proposal. Instead of including binding targets in the CAP itself, it has delegated responsibility to Member States via the Farm to Fork Strategy, relying on their goodwill to ensure EU environmental targets are achieved. But this would be done through non-binding recommendations, with no mechanism to hold Member States to account if they fail to deliver.

“Passing the buck like this is a poor approach – if the Commission is not proposing to turn its own environmentally ambitious policies into legislation, who will?”

The CAP, which reflects around 35% of EU spending every year, was under review during the former Commission and is still in its proposal phase. This means the current Commission under Ursula von der Leyen has inherited a proposal that now conflicts with its political mandate and its own policies – specifically its climate, environment and biodiversity goals.

Pittie said: “Keeping consistency among policies and throughout an institution’s own course of behaviour is a logical approach but it’s also a legal requirement under the EU Treaties. The policies and regulations proposed by the Commission must be aligned with each other. The current CAP proposal is outdated and, without amendment, will block much of the ability of the European Green Deal to deliver climate, environment and biodiversity impact.

“Considering EU leaders are staking much of their reputation on world-leading climate ambition, they would do well to make sure the hangovers of old policy do not hobble the new.”

The Commission is within its rights to withdraw and amend proposals before the European Council has acted on them. The lawyers say amending or withdrawing and replacing the current CAP proposal to align it with the EGD announcements is not only an option but an obligation for the Commission.


Notes to editors

What does the letter say?

The lawyers have reminded the Commission that the EU Treaties specifically entrust the Commission with the power of legislative initiative in order to safeguard the general interest of the Union and the consistency of the EU’s actions.

ClientEarth’s key call is for the European Commission to use its institutional power to withdraw or amend the CAP strategic plan proposal – which it can do based on the EU Treaties and EU case law – to align it with the new EU climate, environmental and biodiversity ambitions of the European Green Deal (EGD), as detailed in the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.

The lawyers remind the Commission that, in its resolution on the EGD adopted on 15 January 2020, the European Parliament asked the Commission to analyse the current CAP reform proposal “in order to fully align it to the goals set in the European Green Deal” (§ 58). The letter points to the Commission’s self-contradictions: it calls tackling climate and environmental challenges this “generation’s defining task” in the EGD but proposes to address it through non-binding instruments or by relying on other institutions in the CAP reform (see pages 21-22).

In the letter, the lawyers state that continued failure to act would amount to a “denial of this Commission’s stated environmental ambitions in the field of agriculture”, which would “not only be politically, but legally wrong”.

Vice President Timmermans has previously admitted that there is extra work to do to align CAP reform with European Green Deal and thus drive it in the “right direction”. (See: “Timmermans says no time or need for new CAP proposal” – Eddy Wax for Politico, 22 May 2020).

ClientEarth points to the recent update to the CAP prompted by COVID-19, which shows that the Commission can act with speed and clarity when it recognises urgency.

Further information on the legal arguments can be found in ClientEarth’s briefing: ‘CAP conflict – is the European Commission breaching its legal duties?’

ClientEarth’s agriculture work

Read ClientEarth’s previous briefing on recommendations for the CAP
Read ClientEarth’s calls for the Farm to Fork Strategy

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.