Who will guard the guardians?

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It is EU practice (and legislation) to subject the CAP to a sophisticated system of evaluations. For each member state’s rural development program (RDP), an ex-ante, mid-term and ex-post evaluation is being undertaken by independent bodies. Other studies, commissioned by DG Agri or DG Research, examine specific CAP instruments across Europe on a rolling basis. In addition, the European Court of Auditors scrutinizes selected CAP instruments (here you can find summaries of their CAP-related studies).

But how independent are the evaluators? How strong is their mandate? How useful are the findings? In a recent article in EuroChoices, Angela Bergschmidt, an evaluator from the Federal Research Institute in charge of agriculture in Germany, offers a bleak account:

[It is] a useless evaluation; costly, often low in scientific quality, unread and unnoticed by policymakers and the wider public.

Evaluation results have apparently not been used to implement changes in the new RDP either at EU level or with respect to adoption by the Commission of the RDPs of Member States.

my experience in Germany is that neither the Federal Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection nor the Ministries of the Federal States are convinced of the evaluation concept. The Administration is accustomed to implementing measures without performance review, adapting them mainly for fiscal or political reasons. As a consequence, the results of an evaluation are used as a line of reasoning if they fit into actual strategies.

the main concern of individual managing authorities is to fulfil formal evaluation requirements

the evaluation unit remains understaffed and is unable to carry out quality control procedures for the large number of RDP evaluations

A seminar on May 19 will take a closer look at ‘Rural Development Policy in the EU – Lessons from the Past and Options for the Future’. The seminar focuses on the evaluation process for rural development programs and how this can inform and improve rural development policy in the EU. One objective of the conference is to discuss how better evidence on the key questions of policy design can be gathered. This is a crucial challenge ahead of the fundamental post-2013 CAP reform. In addition, the researchers have summarized the evidence that is available from existing evaluation reports, drawing lessons for the future direction of policy.

A smarter CAP debate

The seminar is part of a new series of seminars on CAP reform.

The EU needs a smart CAP debate. The CAP is the EU’s most expensive policy, costing € 57 billion annually. The success of the EU 2020 strategy and the next long-term EU budget cycle depends on CAP reform. Furthermore, the CAP is a key lever for promoting biodiversity and fighting climate change. A policy debate of the highest standards is needed to prepare the ground for making the right decisions on CAP reform.

But the debate about the future of the CAP is often poorly informed and distorted. Emotions take centerstage: fears over food insecurity, compassion for small-scale farmers and attachment to the rural way of life can hinder evidence-based analysis. The debate is also driven by special interests, with farmers protesting in the streets and extensive lobbying behind closed doors. Narrowly-conceived national interests in maximizing the receipt of EU subsidies also bias perspectives and arguments.

ECIPE and reformthecap.eu are organizing a series of seminars to help non-experts determine the facts. More and more stakeholders are starting to take an interest in the CAP. They feel that something is wrong with the policy but find it hard to challenge the justifications provided by insiders who defend the status quo. The seminars will provide an overview of what research has to say on critical issues in reforming the CAP. The aim is to inform all stakeholders through easily accessible, high-quality presentations by recognized experts: providing the best science at your fingertips.

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1 Reply to “Who will guard the guardians?”

  1. Speaking of evaluation, one might mention that the current issues of Eurochoices (Vol 9, issue 1) is a Special Issue on Evaluating Rural Development Policy. It contains a number of very useful articles focusing on both general and specific issues in evaluation RD policy.

    However, I find David Harvey’s letter to the editor highly relevant to this discussion. He comes to the following conclusion: “In short, evaluation implies that we know what we are trying to do and how we may best do it. I suggest that our present understandings are inadequate for any sensible and coherent evaluation. We are, for the most part, going through the motions of acting intelligently without knowing what we do. (Harvey, 2010:55)”.

    In light of these comments, I do not expect an improvement in RD policies if policymakers started to rely more heavily on current evaluators’ results and recommendations.

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