European Court of Auditors: EU proposes climate spending too bright

European money is spent much less often green than the European Commission claims. The European Court of Auditors concludes this in a critical report. According to the Court of Auditors, agricultural subsidies in particular have often not been shown to contribute to the fight against climate change or adapt to the changing climate (adaptation).

The EU has set itself the goal of spending at least 20% of its budget on โ€œclimate-related issuesโ€. That target was met for the period 2014-2020, the European Commission reported last year. 216 billion euros, or 20.1 percent of the total budget, went, according to the Commission, to measures that either reduce CO2 emissions or promote adaptation to the changing climate.

The European Court of Auditors analysed the expenditure and concludes that 72 billion of these were not actually relevant for tackling the climate problem. Sometimes this is obvious, for example in the case of subsidies under the heading ‘development of the rural area’ that have been used for the construction of new roads.

Agricultural subsidies

Of the 72 billion, the largest part (80 percent) goes to agricultural financing. According to the European Court of Auditors, the ‘climate profit’ of these subsidies is very small. โ€œGreenhouse emissions from EU farms have not decreased since 2010,โ€ the report states.

An example: 28 billion green has been spent of direct income support to farmers, according to the European Commission. That money has been used for greening measures that farmers have to comply with since 2014. But, according to the Court of Auditors, the greening has not yielded that much at all: โ€œIt has only led to real change in 2 to 5 percent of companies.โ€ The new standards that were set did not deviate much from what was already happening in practice.


also says Jeroen Candel, associate professor of agricultural policy at Wageningen University: โ€œWe have known since the introduction of the greening measures that they are for the most part a wash nose. You could say that they mainly support the status quo and may inhibit sustainability rather than promote it.โ€

The Court also questions the climate gain of measures for agricultural nature management and organic farmers. The European Commission places them 100 percent under climate budget. The researchers recognize that organic farmers often lead to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and better soil quality, but any negative effects are not taken into account, such as that organic farmers need much more land to get the same harvest yield.


According to the Court, the European Commission‘s methodology is unreliable and needs to be adjusted. โ€œThey are very bright about the possible climate gain,โ€ says Court Member Joรซlle Elvinger. Candel describes it this way: โ€œThe Commission wants to show that they are doing well. The figures are used to make a, in fact, ineffective agricultural policy look better.โ€

Agriculture and horticulture organization LTO says in a response to the report: โ€œEuropean policy makers would like to be in the ringside for a dime: agricultural subsidies that were intended for food security must also pay for sustainability today, while the budget is only goes down,โ€ says spokesman Wytse Sonnema. According to Sonnema, more investment will have to be made in order for the greening to really succeed. โ€œThey don’t get that done with accounting optimism.โ€

The European Commission has not given an official response, but indicates in a tweet that the methodology for the period 2021-2027 has already been modified and will be based more on results than on desired effects.