EU ministers gave their final political approval today (16 December) for the Common Agricultural Policy, which sets out the European Union's farming strategy for 2014-2020.
The green light from EU ministers was the last step in the lengthy approval process, after the European Parliament passed the text last month.
Ministers, meeting in Brussels, approved the rules on their first reading, preventing further delays to a policy whose implementation has already been postponed until 2015 due to the difficulty of finding an agreement.
The CAP's budget will be €408.3 billion over its seven-year lifespan, making it worth 38% of the EU budget for the same period.
Direct income support and market support measures, such as subsidies, will make up €312.7 bn (76.6%) of the budget. Rural development, the second so-called "pillar" of the policy, will account for €95.6 bn, or 23.4%.
During negotiations, payments and support mechanisms have shifted in favour of "greener and fairer" agricultural practices, with organic and small-holder farms receiving a proportionally larger share of payments than previously.
The reform also attempts to balance the level of support amongst different EU countries and regions. Member states currently receiving less than 90% of the EU average will progressively get a larger share.
After the meeting, the Council of Ministers said in a statement: "The main objectives of the reform are to make the CAP greener and better targeted, with a more equitable distribution of income support to farmers across the Union and a more effective rural development policy."
The political deal will now move to the European Commission to draft an implementation plan. The EU executive can make use of so-called delegated acts, in which it makes minor changes, usually to ensure the coherence of the final legal text.
Pekka Pesonen, the secretary-general of the European farmers association Copa-Cogeca, urged the Commission not to overstep its powers.
"We consequently urge the European Commission to ensure that they do not go beyond the CAP reform deal for some elements of the agreement like greening when drafting the implementing plans or delegated acts and urge the Commissioner to ensure that the political agreement is respected," he said.
"Bureaucracy and red tape for farmers must also be minimised."
Copa-Cogeca, the association of European farmers and agricultural co-operatives, welcomed the agreement.
Pekka Pesonen, the secretary-general, said in a statement: “We have been pressing hard for a final approval to be made after a political deal was made last Summer ... The overall reform package is a solution farmers can live with and a big improvement on what was originally proposed, being more realistic and practical to apply."
But Pesonen added: "Farmers will still however have to do a lot more for less money due to the onerous nature of the greening requirements and environmental services that they have to provide."
- 2014: Transition measures for the Common Agricultural Policy come into force
- 2015: EU begins implementation of CAP.