Main authors: Špela Železnikar, Matjaž Glavan, Sindre Langaas, Gerard Velthof, Susanne Wuijts, Susanne Klages, Claudia Heidecke, Marina Pintar
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Železnikar, S. et al. (2021) Evaluation report on barriers and issues in providing integrated scientific support for EU policy. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 7.1R 56 pp

 

Interviews with individuals were used to collect views on barriers and issues in providing integrated scientific support for EU policy. Invitations to participate in the interview were sent in three rounds. We sent the first invitations in December 2017 and the repeated invitations in January and February 2018. Altogether we managed to perform and complete 5 interviews. Interviews were conducted on the basis of telephone conversation of the average length of 20 minutes. The same questions as in the workshop were used to achieve a more in depth insight on the topic of issues/barriers around providing integrated scientific support for EU policy.  


Contents table
Question 1: What do you consider to be the main issues on the EU level related to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture in EU?
Question 2: What do you consider to be the main barriers in solving the issues in the EU regulations related to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture in EU?
Question 3: In your opinion how the relationship between science and policy in the EU regulations is reflected in EU legislation, with special attention to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture?
Question 4: In your opinion how the system at EU level can be improved (i.e. what are the possible solutions for integrated scientific support for EU policy related to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture)?

Question 1: What do you consider to be the main issues on the EU level related to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture in EU?

Interviewees highlighted two main issues related to drinking water resource protection. Lack of field knowledge and that drinking water protection is local issue with local characteristics. There are also governance issues, where there is a question of communication between water authorities, people who draw up river basin management plans, the farming community and agriculture departments. Moreover they all agreed that, more bottom up inclusive processes have to be stimulated in the field of water resource protection. Furthermore, the issue of pollution from overstocking was mentioned, especially in Northern Europe areas, but also in other places in Europe. We have to be aware that many of the pollution issues come from farms that don’t actually have land. On the farms that don’t have land, the CAP doesn’t have that sort of leverage that people imagine. Also, one of the interviewees noted the problem on farms for arable crops, where there are problems of non-application or inconsistent application of nutrient management planning, that leads to overuse and also sometimes, to nutrient depletion.

Hereinafter we can divide the answers into two parts, nitrates and pesticides issues. One of the issues that were mentioned about the nitrates is that ND does not send an end point by which certain results have to be achieved, unlike the WFD. Also, the ND takes a very long time in delivering results. There is a wide, different interpretation about what role the ND should play in the WFD in addressing the nitrate pollution issues. This is linked again on if, the WFD interplay should be mandatory uncompensated or voluntary compensated. There is also a big variation on how MS have addressed this issue. The predominant approach so far has been that MS do as little they can to get away with under the ND (those are the measures that become mandatory for farmers). Then the approach is that they include voluntary measures as part of WFD implementation. When it comes to pollution with nitrates another issue can be the costs related to the investments that are needed for compliance. Example: for small farmers it can be difficult to comply with manure storage requirements. Also, when the norms are already enforced for some time now, EU money can no longer support investments for compliance. There is also the problem of the overuse of manure and mineral fertilisers in many regions of EU. These are the well-known regions with intensive livestock farming systems, such as the regions in Germany, Flanders in Belgium, Netherlands, Brittany, Catalonia and regions with intensively managed cropping systems, such as vegetables, which can be found in most EU countries. In these regions, the nitrogen inputs are much higher than the crop uptake and the surplus of nitrogen is lost to the environment, including leaching as nitrate to groundwater and surface water. Very few MS has set out a comprehensive approach that works out what, is the load reduction that we need to achieve objective and therefore what should be done under the ND and WFD to meet a defined target goal.

The main issue of pesticides on the EU level is the implementation of the sustainable use of pesticides directive (SUPD). The implementation of this has been delayed in MS, also the reports on the implementation on this are 2 years delayed. There is a huge increase in pesticides so the adoption of integrated pest management across Europe should be pushed forward. The main reason for the delay is political, these issues used to be dealt by DG ENVI, but they were moved and decided that they are a no on a priority list. This report should be the main toll in helping address the issue of pesticides on all areas, not just drinking water.

There is quite a lot of legislation “under the implementation”, but generally the legislation does not need to be changed, it just needs to be implemented by MS. The main issue at EU level is political, not a science issue. The process of water resource protection is mainly limited by politicians that don’t want to impose costs on farmers. All of the tools are here, if only there was a political will to actually achieve the outcome of water resource protection against diffuse pollution.

Question 2: What do you consider to be the main barriers in solving the issues in the EU regulations related to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture in EU?

There were three main barriers exposed by our respondents. One of them is again political; there is a lack of political will to impose regulations and costs onto farmers. It also costs a lot to provide good advisory services and regulatory bodies to check, whether what is happening on a farm is what should be happening. This all costs money, so this has to be a political priority.

The second barrier highlighted was that there needs to be capacity in advisory services and on regulatory bodies. More is needed than guidelines, i.e. engagement and (auto)control of local actors. There also needs to be willingness to address these issues. The nature of diffuse pollution is much more difficult to manage than it is point source pollution. For example, it is very difficult to control thousands of farmers who have taken individual actions. Their lack of knowledge on environmental issues in relation to farming practices (and EU policies) and economic reasons is a big barrier too. Farmers are often not aware of the objectives of EU policies (e.g. the need to decrease nitrate leaching, because of drinking water protection) and which measures can be taken to decrease leaching. In addition, manure and fertiliser are often cheap and from an economic perspective farmers want to apply more than sufficient amounts of nitrogen to avoid risk of low yields. In regions with intensive livestock, manures are often seen as waste and are applied (disposed) to soils in the surroundings of the livestock farm, because transport of manure to other regions is expensive. Also, when farmers need investments, they don’t comply in time and then they can’t have the benefits of EU or national funding for compliance with existing norms, in order to carry out these investments.

On the other hand, we also have good, positive examples in Europe. In Scotland they have a targeted approach to identify catchments of higher priority (for drinking water or high value fisheries). They are putting their resources into these areas, map all of the problems and then go back repeatedly to farmers and give them advice. They also give them money to resolve the issues, and then if they haven’t resolved it after the third time, there is a fine. This is really a clear, targeted strategy to deliver results. This example stands out, as a real targeted approach to achieve results in a given area. But unfortunately, if this was not a political priority, all this efforts would never be put in.

The third, highlighted barrier is the lack of communication or the different timing between different instruments. The common agriculture planning is different from the WFD reporting. It happens that when national rural development programme is prepared, river basin management plans are not yet approved etc. Also where agriculture is a very profitable business there is a question of balancing societal interests between maintaining the economic benefit at supporting decisive measures for addressing the pressure on the environment.

Question 3: In your opinion how the relationship between science and policy in the EU regulations is reflected in EU legislation, with special attention to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture?

The link is there - in the legislations, but it doesn’t specify how this should be done, this is MS decision. There is a big difference between the science- policy links that has been made at MS level. There is a clear link between science and policy in for example the ND and WFD. The nitrates action plan, which has to be established every 4 years should be based on monitoring and the results from the previous plan. If there is a feedback mechanism, we can understand what a previous plan has achieved and we can design our next set of measures based on that.

Also the WFD has articles on different classifications and then you need to draw up a plan that includes the programs of measures that will address the problem. There is a link established between: you know what the situation is - you know what you did before - you know where you need to get to - and then you should make the most cost effective measures to achieve this. A very good example can be seen in Ireland on agriculture catchments program, where they trial in different catchments lots of different measures to address diffuse pollution. The measures that work best are the ones that then make it to the ND action programme and are included in the rural development program to be funded. Like a laboratory, to demonstrate certain measures, show farmers the work so they can understand them and then this gets incorporated into the national programmes. This is best practice, not visible in other MS. Behind this agriculture catchments programme in Ireland, there was of course the political will to address this issue. The link is very clearly established, there is good work in relationship between the environment department, the agriculture department, the agriculture advisory services and the science together. This often does not work in many MS, there isn’t even a common agreement between the agriculture and the environment side on what should be done.

There should be more opportunities for scientific expertise to be included in policy making. The policy making cycle is sometimes so fast you don’t have enough time/space to include moments where you should ask independent scientific advice that is not the most available one but the most valuable one. Moreover, in the EU research projects, the dissemination is not really followed trough. The dissemination is very formal and birocratic, they don’t really look if they had use the maximum way to make impact with their findings. Sometimes the way the commission uses the results of these projects is not straight forward, it’s not clear. The CORDIS web platform is not always helpful; it looks like the EU is only funding the project and not really using the information the projects give. The EU is putting a lot of money into these projects, so they could put a little bit of money into making sure the most is made out of the results. An idea could be to have a functional system of disseminating summaries, by topic, to civil servants that could actually use the information.

Moreover, there are service contracts for DG Environment implementation of the Nitrates Directive ongoing and available. Studies include the assessments of nitrate action plans (with measures) of member states and general studies about aspect related to nitrate leaching. The Commission uses the results of these studies in the discussion with the member states. This means that there is a clear role of science in supporting the implementation of the Nitrates Directive. The Commission has similar Service Contracts for other environmental directives, so in general the commission uses scientific information in their regulations from specific Service Contracts. However, it is doubtful if this information is really used by the member states and farmers. It is also not clear how the results of other, and often more general, projects, and especially the H2020 projects, are used by the Commission. One of the most relevant factors is the resource availability at the European Commission, where within the European institutions the highest levels of technical knowledge and assessment are located. There is not enough staff available to deal with all EC key tasks, so complementary ones like science-to-policy cannot be addressed.

Question 4: In your opinion how the system at EU level can be improved (i.e. what are the possible solutions for integrated scientific support for EU policy related to drinking water resource protection against diffuse pollution of nitrates and pesticides from agriculture)?

Much of this is a national implementation issue. What can be addressed and done primarily at EU level is the reform of the CAP. Another area is to make sure that, there are clearly defined indicators in the monitoring and evaluation of the CAP. Article VII. of the WFD requires measures to be put in place at catchments level, this reduces the need for water companies to reduce the pollution. This should be a measure that is also reflected into the agricultural legislation, to make sure that the costs are picked up by the CAP budged and not on drinking water providers. In the water legislation, the WFD has to be reviewed in 2019 and there should be a possibility to explicitly strengthen the science-policy interface. This, does not only apply to EU policy related to water, but also at the attitude of policy makers and administrators towards what is going on or needs to be or it’s going to change, because of technological change.

Now, policy is made based on indicators, data that are sometimes inconsistent, sometimes even outdated. With the digital revolution, with machine learning and data mining, we could/should have a real time picture of what is going on (for example in water use in Europe). Many of the current instruments and mechanisms need to be adapted. We can no longer use a type of measure that is implemented unchangingly for 6 years, but we have to be able to monitor in real time and adapt to make more value per public money spent. The whole relationship between data, information and decision making needs to change because of these new mechanisms and instruments.

One of the solutions for EU decision makers and locals would be to equip themselves, to make use of these changes and new technologies. To use data platforms, use data mining. Use it in the “feedback loop” way, you do something and have feedback, you can adjust it, you can use the information from other fields and departments (the EU is actively pushing for data re-use and open data). Now we have data bases which we use for a single purpose of subsidy payments to farmers. With the approach mentioned above, we could use the same data for different purposes. A win-win solution could be improve the way we do agriculture, be mindful of what the public or tax payers expect from farmers and the farming community, why they support the CAP, and be ready for change in order to deliver these results. Another improvement that is needed is that the policy makers of member states (national and local level) and farmers and other stakeholders can use the results of the ongoing projects. This demands for specific dissemination techniques for specific audience and in the local language. The scientific knowledge is mostly available and we should translate this knowledge into information that farmers and stakeholders at the local level can use in practice.

Besides the Service Contracts mentioned in Question 3, we could also have the involvement of civil servants of Commission in the projects, such as H2020 projects, so they can be improved. This can be done by giving the civil servants of the Commission a clear role in the project (example by presentations, active role in workshop, interviews etc.). Furthermore, some projects just focus on “their business” disregard whether the topic is on the political agenda of the EC or not, with the aim to “tick boxes” fulfilling the Grant Agreement obligations. One trend to make this more “digestible” for all is via the establishment of project clusters, aiming for longer-term approaches/teams and the use of gatekeepers in the relationships/communication flows.

 


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see

» References

Go To Top