Main authors: Froukje Maria Platjouw, Harriet Moore, Susanne Wuijts, Sandra Boekhold, Susanne Klages, Isobel Wright, Morten Graversgaard and Gerard Velthof
FAIRWAYiS Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Platjouw F. M. et al. (2021) Coherence in EU law and policy for the protection of drinking water resources. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 6.1R 200 pp


Here we discuss the legal requirements imposed by the Common Agricultural Policy on states and/or the farming industry with a focus on ecological, monitoring and reporting, public participation (including farmer organisatons) and coordination requirements. The ecological requirements are subjected to a (vertical) coherence assessment of their contribution to FAIRWAY's objectives of protecting drinking water resources against pollution by nitrates and pesticides from agricultural practices.

Details of the analyses are contained in the Appendices of the full report:

Contents table
1. Overview of the Common Agricultural Policy
2. Contribution of the Common Agricultural Policy's requirements to achieving FAIRWAY's objectives

1. Overview of the Common Agricultural Policy

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the EU policy to provide financial support to farmers in member states. It is one of the founding policies of the original Common Market and brings together national intervention programmes into one scheme to allow farmers to compete on a level playing field while protecting against volatility in agricultural prices (and hence incomes) and to provide food security.

Following a major CAP reform in 2005, there are two big pillars to CAP payments: one for direct income support, cross-compliance (pillar 1) and the second for rural development (pillar 2). Direct income support is a much bigger programme than rural development.

Article 39 of the European Union Treaty sets out the specific objectives of the CAP. The CAP aims to increase agricultural productivity by promoting technical progress and ensuring the optimum use of the factors of production, in particular labour. Furthermore, CAP aims to ensure a fair standard of living for farmers; to stabilise markets; to ensure the availability of supplies; and to ensure reasonable prices for consumers.

Besides these specific objectives, the CAP more generally aims to support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, ensuring a stable supply of affordable food; to safeguard EU farmers to make a reasonable living; to help tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources; to maintain rural areas and landscapes across the EU; and to keep the rural economy alive by promoting jobs in farming, agri-foods industries and associated sectors.

The CAP is a common policy for all the countries of the European Union. It is managed and funded at European level from the resources of the EU’s budget.

Of interest is the recognition of the pressures on water sustainability as a result of some agricultural practices. The CAP establishes explicit links with water policies. To illustrate, it relies on the complementary effects of various instruments through cross-compliance, the green direct payment, and rural development support measures. CAP's Pillar I cross-compliance requirements represent the compulsory environmental obligations to be met by farmers to receive full funding. These obligations derive, among others, from the Nitrates Directive and Pesticides Directive.

2. Contribution of the Common Agricultural Policy's requirements to achieving FAIRWAY's objectives

Table 2.9 Requirements and objectives of the CAP

Label Requirements and objective of the Common Agricultural Policy
Farmer requirements Farmers are required to diversify crops (crop rotations), maintain permanent grassland, and dedicate 5% of arable land to ‘ecologically beneficial element (‘ecological focus areas’)
Farmer compliance

Farmers have to comply with environmental directives (including the WFD, ND GWD) and implement good agricultural and environmental conditions (including soil organic matter content, minimizing soil erosion, buffer strips, water extraction) (CAP)

The average score across all respondents and all requirements for the contribution of the CAP to achieving the objective of FAIRWAY suggests that participants believe the CAP requirements enable/reinforce (M = 1.7) the protection of drinking water resources against pesticides and nitrates from agricultural practices. Figure 2.9 demonstrates that respondents perceive all farmer requirements related to crop rotations and ecological focus areas, contribute slightly positively (M = 1,2) to the protection of drinking water resources. While most respondents scored the interaction positively, there was very high variability with regards to the strength of positivity though; 20% of the respondents considered these farmer requirements to be neutral (0), 20% enabling (+1), 30% reinforcing (+2), and 20% indivisible (+3), suggesting they believe these requirements contribute positively to the FAIRWAY objective. Only 10% of the respondents perceive these requirements as counteracting (-2) the protection of drinking water resources.

D61 fig209
Figure 2.9

The requirement related to compliance is also scored generally positive, with less variability; 50% of the respondents suggested this requirement is indivisible (+3) from the FAIRWAY objective, while a further 30% suggested the requirement is reinforcing (+2). The remaining 20 % of the respondents perceived this requirement as enabling (+1) or neutral (0).

Responses to open-ended survey items give some explanation about the overall positive scores, and variability between scores for different requirements. Respondents clarified that certain practices related to the implementation of the CAP requirements are highly relevant, while others are less relevant. For example, the creation of buffer zones is a positive practice for reducing the concentrations of nitrates and pesticides (and perhaps also leaching). Crop rotation may also decrease the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

Similarly, respondents suggested that the requirement to comply with the other directives supports the FAIRWAY objective as those directives, such as the Nitrates Directive, are highly relevant for the protection of drinking water resources. As such, this requirement strengthens the need for practices already required by those directives to decrease nitrates and pesticide pollution. Respondents also emphasized that the compliance requirement is effective because it is supported by wider institutional factors, such as a funding scheme. Member states are required to comply with this CAP requirement in order to access funding; non-compliance will result in funding being withheld. Therefore, this mechanism may deter non-compliance with CAP requirements, and strengthen implementation of the environmental directives.

However, the funding mechanism could also entail some risks and challenges for the protection of drinking water resources. One respondent highlighted that the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) linked with CAP and cross compliance means that farmers are keeping land in production just to receive this payment. In certain areas, farmers are spraying pesticide to remove rushes, so that the land is eligible under the BPS. This is resulting in an increase in pesticide run-off to the river. In addition, the areas declared for the BPS are also used to calculate the farm’s organic N loading for the Nitrates Directive. For that reason, a farmer can legitimately increase his/her stocking density up to 170kg/ha organic N, even though the land may not be able to support this agricultural intensity. Similarly, in the Netherlands, for instance, farmers plough their grasslands within 5 years, to avoid that their grasslands will be considered as permanent grasslands in CAP, with more strict regulation. Ploughing of grasslands can strongly increase nitrate leaching. Thus, wider institutional factors may have positive effects on the FAIRWAY objective in some instances, and negative effects, such as an increase in nitrates and pesticides leaching to water resources, in other instances. These insights from respondents highlight the complexity of connections between EU environmental directives and achieving outcomes for water quality.

Overall, the CAP is perceived to contribute positively to the protection of drinking water resources against nitrates and pesticides pollution from agricultural resources. However, the funding mechanism and its implementation might also have some drawbacks that could affect drinking water quality adversely.


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

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