Proposed changes to the Common Agricultural Policy are too complicated and risk heaping extra rules and red tape on farmers, a European watchdog has warned.

A report by the European Court of Auditors said while proposals to reform the CAP made some effort to simplify the policy, plans for spending and cross-compliance were still too burdensome.

In some places, the European Commission’s proposals even added additional layers of regulation, it warned.

Criticising proposals for the so-called greening element of direct payments, the Court said its objectives were not adequately set out and it would be difficult for farmers to measure their success.

It said the “active farmer” test would do little to ensure payments went to those actively involved in agriculture, while there was confusion around the requirement to have activated entitlements in 2011.

The 200-page document, published on Tuesday (17 April), also said changes to the policy could be costly to member states and would be difficult for farmers and paying agencies to administer. Paying agencies needed to be given up to 24 months to adapt their procedures to deal with change.

“The administrative costs of the CAP reform, in particular of the direct payments scheme, will mainly be borne by Member States,” the report added.

“The limited simplification and additional administrative burdens introduced will have an effect on the costs of the reform which the Commission estimates are likely to represent an increase of 15 % overall [though these costs may be higher].

“The Court notes that no information is available to show to what extent these additional costs will be offset by increased management effectiveness or efficiency in delivering the policy.”

NFU president Peter Kendall said the report echoed many of the concerns the NFU held about the reforms.

“Now is not the time for setting aside land from production, or increasing the costs and bureaucracy associated with CAP,” he said.

“The final shape of the next CAP will be determined jointly by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

“I urge all the decision makers involved to take heed of the Court’s recommendations and particularly consider how the next CAP can be implemented in a way in which we can move forward to a place where farmers’ reliance on public support payments can be reduced.”