EU policies are unable to ensure farmers use water sustainably, according to a special report published today by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). The impact of agriculture on water resources is major and undeniable. But farmers benefit from too many exemptions from EU water policy that hinder efforts to ensure sound water use. In addition, the EU’s agricultural policy promotes and too often supports greater rather than more efficient water use.
Farmers are major consumers of freshwater: agriculture accounts for a quarter of all water abstraction in the EU. Agricultural activity affects both water quality (e.g. pollution from fertilisers or pesticides) and water quantity. The EU’s current approach to managing water goes back to the 2000 Water Framework Directive (WFD), which introduced policies relating to sustainable water use. It set a target of achieving good quantitative status for all water bodies across the EU. The common agricultural policy (CAP) also plays an important role in water sustainability. It offers tools that can help reduce pressures on water resources, such as linking payments to greener practices and financing more efficient irrigation infrastructure.
“Water is a limited resource, and the future of EU agriculture largely depends on how efficiently and sustainably farmers use it” said Joëlle Elvinger, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “So far, though, EU policies have not helped enough to reduce the impact of agriculture on water resources.”