The European Parliament has agreed to a "fairer and greener" reform of the EU’s agriculture policy, but MEPs from across the political spectrum weighed in with their discontent.
A majority of MEPs backed the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in a vote in Strasbourg yesterday (20 November) but a flurry of them criticised some of the finer points (see Positions).
The votes were on legislative changes to rules governing direct payments to farmers, rural development, the agricultural market, and financing, management and monitoring of the sector.
Portuguese MEP Luís Capoulas Santos, the Parliament’s lead negotiator on the CAP, said the reform was “greener and fairer” than the old policy.
“This reform will get value for public funds not only for farmers but for the whole of society,” he said.
The reform attempts to balance out the direct payments to different EU countries. Member states currently receiving less than 90% of the EU average will progressively get a larger share.
Roger Waite, spokesperson for Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, said in an email that "the national envelopes which each member state gets is basically based on production volumes in the 2000-2002 period. This has led to large differences between member states – with average payments per hectare varying from 40% of the EU average to more than 250% of the EU average."
The reform will mean that every member state will receive at least 75% of the current EU average.
The agreement also changes the old payment system within countries, in which farms are funded based on the same system of historical references. Under the 2003 reform, most "old" member states, except Germany and the UK, allocate their direct payments based on production volumes from the 2000 to 2002 window.
"This means that two neigbouring farms may currently receive different amounts of support per hectare on the basis of how intensive their production was back in the reference period," said Waite, adding that "these changes and redistribution will be phased over the 2014-2020 period".
But member states can decide whether to use a national or regional average in deciding where to allocate payments.
Another aspect of the reform is to favour younger farmers and smaller farms, as opposed to a few large businesses.
Under the new rules, member states will be able to transfer money between the two “pillars” of the CAP, direct payments and rural development.
Payments will also be directed to organic farms and those using ‘greener’ agricultural practices. These include the maintenance of permanent grasslands, more land set-asides and crop-diversification.
Farmers will face fines for not carrying out the mandatory environmental measures, as well as losing their greening subsidies. The measures will be phased in during the first four years of the CAP.
"It is a matter of fairness to give farmers more time to familiarise themselves with the new rules,” said the European People’s Party’s Giovanni La Via, the Italian MEP in charge of the CAP’s financing, management and monitoring rules. “No penalties will be imposed in the first two years of the new CAP and only then will the share of so-called green payments withheld gradually rise to a maximum of 25%.”
The new CAP also reforms market measures, such as the old quota system. Quotas for milk expire in 2015, and sugar quotas in 2017.
After MEPs agreed to the reform, French farmers today (21 November) blocked roads into Paris to protest higher taxes and changes to European subsidies, Reuters reported. A fireman was killed in a traffic accident linked to the protest north of the capital.
Dacian Cioloş, the European commissioner for agriculture, said: “[The CAP] will be better targeted helping farmers in implementing concrete actions to fight against climate change, biodiversity loss and to increase water and soil quality.”
Northern Irish MEP Jim Nicholson (Conservatives and Reformists) backed the push for a more environmentally friendly cap but warned that that the requirements saddled farmers with too much potentially costly “green tape”. He advocated more voluntary “environmental stewardship” schemes.
“It has been possible to reduce bureaucracy without compromising transparency and control,” said Portuguese MEP Luís Capoulas Santos, the Parliament’s lead negotiator on the CAP.
The European United Left and Nordic Green Left alliance expressed discontent with the amount of funds that negotiators made available to the new CAP.
"My political group is dissatisfied with financial reductions for the Common Agricultural Policy for 2014-2020,” said Latvian MEP Alfreds Rubiks.
Italian S&D MEP Paolo De Castro, chair of the Parliament's committee on agriculture and rural development, said: "Our aim was to give farmers and all European citizens a more balanced and sustainable agricultural policy which is able to deal with future challenges. And overall, I think we succeeded.
British liberal MEP George Lyon (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), coordinator on the agriculture committee and shadow rapporteur on the direct payment and horizontal regulation dossiers, said: “While it is good news that Europe's agricultural policy now endorses the principle of payments for public goods rather than pure income support for farmers, Liberal and Democrat MEPs reject the return to failed policies of the past with regard to market intervention proposals."
German MEP Britta Reimers (ALDE) shadow rapporteur on the market organisation dossier, added: "ALDE will vote against the outcome of the negotiations on the Common Market Organisation. Public intervention and private storage aid are the wrong answers to a global market. Automatic purchase of agricultural commodities in the case of price drops and extended export subsidies risk taking us back to the bad old days of food mountains and milk lakes.
“In the end the Parliament has chosen to ignore citizens’ calls for greater agricultural sustainability by rubber stamping a much weaker approach to greening of direct payments under Pillar 1 and accepting dramatic cuts to the rural development budget under Pillar 2 over the next seven years,” said Christopher Stopes, president of IFOAM EU, the European umbrella organisation for organic food and farming.
“The overall outcome of this reform is a sham”, says Trees Robijns, EU agriculture and bioenergy policy officer at Birdlife conservation pressure group. She continued: “The result is contrary to the promises made at the very beginning. The new CAP is not green, not simple and not fair.”