Agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (19 March) forged an incomplete compromise farm policy ahead of key negotiations on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with Slovakia and Slovenia refusing to sign off on the deal.
The most divisive issues in the 2014-2020 CAP have been the force of environmental measures, establishing a uniform per-acre payment for farmers, and the future of protectionist measures for sugar and wine producers.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s agricultural minister, said late Tuesday - after two days of late-night talks - that “this process has not been easy” but in the end “we have managed to get a common agreement.”
Slovakia and Slovenia, whose farm ministers argued that their countries did not get a fair deal, refused to sign the accord.
The 25-2 vote in favour “gives me a very strong mandate now to go into the next stage of negotiations to try to conclude this process,” said Coveney, who vowed to reach a final deal on the CAP before Ireland's EU presidency ends on 30 June.
EU officials are wrestling against time to produce a CAP with just nine months before it is to go into effect. Representatives of the EU Council, the Parliament and the Commission are due to meet on 11 April to start negotiations on the final text that could drag into June.
“What we’ve tried to do is accommodate key concerns and in that way satisfy all countries that they’ve got something significant in these changes, and at the same time accepting that other countries may also need to get something significant,” Coveney, said after the first day of negotiations.
The compromise keeps alive some quotas, particularly for sugar, but would eliminate these in 2017, two years earlier than what the European Parliament sought.
Less ‘greening’ than hoped
Environmentalists were quick to denounce the deal, saying it defied European Commission efforts to introduce mandatory ‘greening’ standards.
“The Council endorsed a new complex and costly mechanism of ‘greening by definition’, which would exempt many farmers from doing anything at all for the environment and which had been clearly rejected by the European Parliament plenary,” the European Environment Bureau, an independent conservation group, said in a statement.
“It now becomes ever clearer that what was originally dubbed a 'green' CAP reform is becoming a greenwash," said Trees Robijns, EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe.
On 13 March, the European Parliament approved a heavily amended proposal that reversed efforts to remove obligatory environmental measures for farmers as first proposed by the Commission in 2011, but defied earlier agreements and restored quotas for sugar beet farmers and planting rights for grape growers.
EU officials have expressed hope that the full deal could be agreed during the Irish presidency of the EU Council, but acknowledge that the new laws will not be fully implemented until 2015.
Coveney, who is overseeing the negotiations, said a deal among national ministers was essential.
“If we want to conclude an inter-institutional agreement with the European Parliament and the Commission by the end of June, we need to agree a Council general approach now,” he said ahead on Friday (15 March). “The Parliament demonstrated this week that it is ready to play its part. The Council must now do likewise.”
Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of Copa-Cogeca, representing farmers and farm organisations, said in a statement: “Under the agreement struck today, measures to further green the CAP are more practical and flexible than was originally proposed. This is a step in the right direction. With food demand on the rise, heads of state decision which ensures that land is not taken out of production must be included in the final package to be agreed by Ministers, the EU Commission and MEPs in June.
“I welcome ministers' decision to continue with the Single Area Payment Scheme. This is important for the new member states. Also a step in the right direction is the agreement to extend product coverage for recognition of producer organisations – it is vital to reinforce farmers position in the food chain by strengthening producer organisations and cooperatives to enable farmers to get a better return from the market. But I am very disappointed that EU sugar quotas were not extended to 2020 and call for this to be included in the final agreement in June to give producers time to adjust. I welcome the Irish presidency’s move to include conclusions from the High Level Group on future wine management instruments into the CAP deal and I am glad that the new system will not apply before January 1, 2019. But the duration of the scheme must be looked at as the wine sector needs stability. The annual growth percentage should also not exceed 0.5%”.
A letter sent to the European Commission by Ludger Fischer, president of Union européenne de l´artisanat et des petites et moyennes enterprises (UEAPME), said: “The continuation of the sugar quota system is contrary to the goals and principles of the internal market and fair competition. It undermines Europe’s competitiveness in the food supply chain. We see no justifiable case for extending sugar quotas beyond 2015. Sugar quotas distort the market to the benefit of the few and the detriment of the many.”
Christopher Stopes, president of IFOAM, which represents organic farmers, said: "Despite citizens’ calls for a greener and fairer CAP and cuts in the EU budget, agriculture ministers have failed to act accordingly. We welcome the move to link greening to the basic payment through stricter sanctions. However, a number of questionable exemptions would allow member states to side-step a solid greening. In contrast, the European Parliament vote sent a strong message that a package of measures should be the only basis for fulfilling Pillar 1 greening. If EU leaders are serious about delivering a more sustainable CAP for taxpayers’ money, they must lift the environmental performance of all farmers by making greening mandatory”.
The European Sugar Users (CIUS) organisation welcomed that the European agriculture ministers agreed on September 2017 as final end date for sugar production quotas. However, the trade group said it regretted that ministers did not stick to abolition date of 2015, as agreed during the 2006 sugar market reform and as proposed by the Commission.
“While an end date in 2016/17 is a political compromise, in economic terms any additional year that the sugar production quotas are kept in place is a loss of European competitiveness, in particular for SMEs. Continuing production quotas, that in recent years have led to unnecessary supply constraints triggering artificial price inflation, will be to the detriment of thousands of food producing companies across the EU,” said Muriel Korter, secretary-general of CIUS.
EFOW, the European Federation of origin wines, welcomed the deal reached by agriculture ministers, but asks for a more ambitious final agreement on the issue of planting rights. EFOW President Riccardo Ricci Curbastro said: "It is essential that the new system which will be implemented be permanent or of a duration far more important than the one proposed today. This new instrument must enable us to grow in accordance with the markets on the long term. The Commission proposes that the new system should apply for a period of six years. Certainly, we have noted progress in the Council which proposes an entry into force in 2019. Nevertheless, the liberalisation will still be implemented since its’ deadline has simply been postponed by three years. We ask for market regulation and for a lasting regulation. We hope that the European Parliament will be determined to support us on this issue."
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s agricultural minister, said on Friday (15 March): “I am not underestimating the scale of the challenge next week - it is indeed a significant one given the range and complexity of issues that are still on the table. However, in another sense it is also a very straightforward one, because in the end it boils down to the ability to compromise. A lot of the issues that remained unresolved at the beginning of January have now been dealt with. We therefore know what we have left to do, and I have prepared a comprehensive set of proposals that I think will allow us to get it done. I believe I have responded to the remaining concerns of Member States with a well-balanced compromise, and if the approach of my colleagues to these two days of negotiations is informed by the same spirit of compromise, I am confident we will succeed.”
- 11 April: Negotiations on CAP scheduled between Parliament, Council and Commission
- 30 June: Irish presidency of the EU Council ends
- 2014-2020: Next phase of the Common Agricultural Policy
- 2014-2020: Next EU budget