The future of Europe’s agriculture policy shouldn’t be held hostage by the EU’s budget impasse, Ireland’s agricultural minister said in calling for negotiations to move forward even if final figures on spending are unknown until spring.
Simon Coveney, the Irish agriculture and food minister, said on Tuesday (18 December) that winning agreement on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after 2013 was a priority for his country as it takes over the rotating presidency of the EU Council on 1 January.
He said another priority would be concluding agreement on the Common Fisheries Policy, which like the CAP is under review in the European Parliament.
Some of the most contentious proposals in the CAP – including measures aimed at setting higher environmental standards and equalising direct payments to farmers from eastern and western countries – are on hold until national leaders agree on the EU’s overall operating budget for 2014-2020.
“We can build the policy principles,” Coveney said of the CAP, “and we will be able to carry on the talks very quickly” when the budget is decided.
The EU’s 27 national leaders failed at a summit in November to reach accord on how to carve up a long-term budget of just under €1 trillion, choosing to postpone action until after the first of the year. The Irish government has previously said it would not tolerate cuts to farm support, but may have to find a more centrist position in its presidency role.
Without a budget framework, nearly all EU programmes have been thrown into doubt, including the two largest, agriculture and cohesion.
CAP delays anticipated
Agricultural officials are already anticipating that interim agricultural policies will be needed for 2014, with the approval process for the CAP now likely to stretch into next summer. Stéphane Le Foll, the French agricultural minister, said last week that the next CAP could be postponed for a year – to 2015 – the Reuters news agency reported.
Senior officials of the current Cypriot presidency of the EU Council concede that some of the most ambitious measures that link direct payments to farmers who improve their environmental performance are unlikely to survive because of anticipated cuts to the EU budget. The ‘greening measures’ recommended by the Commission 14 months ago could be replaced by voluntary measures or a weakened compulsory scheme.
Coveney has reversed course on Ireland’s earlier support of a ‘menu’ of environmental measures that farmers could choose, saying it could be to cumbersome to apply evenly across the EU.
The minister told journalists in Brussels that the Irish presidency would have “an open mind” on so-called greening measures, “but the menu option will certainly not be coming from Ireland.”
Under proposals made by Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş the EU executive’s plan for ‘greening the CAP’ centred on
using direct payments to encourage farmers to use more sustainable cultivation techniques, such as crop rotation; and preserving at least 7% of land for focus areas such as buffer areas or permanent grassland to help foster biodiversity.
Coveney described the proposals and alternatives “up for grabs”.
Some countries favour voluntary commitments on reducing the ecological impact of farming, while others support allowing farmers the choice of ‘equivalent measures’ to achieve greener farming practices – although Cypriot officials say there has been no agreement on what those measures are.
The Cypriot EU presidency was preparing to present its progress report on the CAP on Wednesday (19 December) in the in final meeting of farm ministers this year. Representatives of three environmental groups say they saw little 'progress' in the proposals on the table.
“After six months of discussions, negotiations and meetings, Cyprus concludes its presidency with a CAP ‘reform’ that if approved, risks making the new policy more environmentally damaging than the current one,” said Faustine Defossez, agriculture policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an NGO. “The new 'green by definition' proposals would label non-environmentally friendly farming methods as ‘green’ while creating a bureaucratic nightmare for farmers and member states alike.”
“Member states are trying hard to water down the Commission’s proposals, while in times of austerity, we should try to get more not less delivery from public investments,” said Trees Robijns, EU agriculture and bioenergy policy officer at BirdLife Europe. “The greenwashing that member states are calling for will not be accepted by the public as a justification for direct payments.”
“On top of the threat of disproportionate budget cuts to the forward looking rural development policy, agriculture ministers are looking to further raid this fund to create a costly income stabilisation tool, at the expense of environmental measures,” said Sebastien Godinot, economist at the WWF European Policy Office. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify the whole of the CAP if member states are even scaling back on current delivery. As it stands, the Council proposals show taxpayers little value for money.”
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements expressed concern that the CAP lacks "ambition to come to a real reform for a substantially greener and fairer CAP post-2013."
“Current progress shows that the Council and the Agriculture Committee aim to weaken the proposed CAP greening. We reject the excuse of many EU politicians that, in the age of austerity, Europe will have to wait for greener and fair outcomes for farmers and citizens", said Marco Schlüter, IFOAM EU Group director.
"EU leaders must finally ensure that we have a food and farming policy that delivers sustainability across both pillars. The environmental performance of all farmers must be raised through a solid greening package as a condition for direct payments in Pillar 1 instead of introducing untested and questionable certification schemes, whilst a well-funded Pillar 2 must focus on instruments that can enhance the overall sustainability and the long-term viability of our farming and rural areas."
- 1 Jan. - 30 June 2013: Irish presidency of the EU Council of Ministers.
- 21 Jan. 2013: German and French ministries participate in seminar on the future of the rural world and agriculture in Berlin.
- 26 Feb. 2013: German and French ministries participate in seminar on the future of the rural world and agriculture in Paris.
- 2014-2020: Next phase of the Common Agricultural Policy.
- 2014-2020: Next EU budget.