Spain joins France in bid to ring fence CAP budget
The farm ministers of Spain and France have issued a joint statement on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), saying both countries "will not accept" any budget overhaul that fails to preserve the EU's current level of farm spending.
Spain has joined France in its campaign to preserve the EU's farm budget after 2013 when a major overhaul of the policy is due to kick in.
The two countries are among the biggest beneficiaries of the CAP, which absorbs some 40% of the EU's annual budget (see background).
As negotiations on the future of the CAP enter a critical phase, the two ministers stressed the importance of maintaining a strong agricultural sector that contributes to growth and jobs in Europe, said the joint statement, issued on Tuesday (14 February).
"In this respect, France and Spain consider it essential to maintain the CAP budget at least at the level of commitments reached at the end of the current programming period, as the Commission proposes."
"France and Spain will not accept any financial framework that does not guarantee the stabilisation of the CAP."
Britain has led calls for a cut in EU farm spending, in order to fund new priorities such as climate change while maintaining overall budget discipline. For their part, Poland and most Eastern EU countries support a strong CAP budget but complain that they are not yet reaping the full benefits of European subsidies as direct payments to farmers are only gradually being phased in.
France and Spain took a stance in defence of their own farming sector, saying payments to Eastern Europe should be phased in more carefully. The Commission's proposed "magnitude" and "pace" of this process are "not acceptable," the two countries argue.
'Greening' proposal criticised
The Franco-Spanish statement also takes a critical stance on the Commission's proposal to make the CAP more environmentally friendly, saying it is "necessary to continue discussions" on draft rules requiring farmers to set aside 7% of their land as "green areas".
Farm advocates say converting cultivatable land to permanent green space would undermine other EU priorities, including making farmers more productive in an era of global food supply concern.
"In this regard, the measures proposed by the Commission are not adapted to the challenges facing European agriculture," the Franco-Spanish statement reads.
The criticism also applies to Commission proposals to make 30% of direct payments to farmers conditional on "greening" measures such as improving water efficiency and reducing pesticides use.
Rather than raising the conditionality of direct subsidies, the two ministers said they would prefer seeing EU countries "retain the possibility of granting aid targeted to certain fragile sectors or regions."
Totalling nearly €60 billion per year, the EU's farm budget consumes some 40% of the European Union's €130 billion annual spending.
One of the main challenges addressed by the EU's CAP reform is to gradually shift existing subsidies to the newer member states of Central and Eastern Europe, without increasing the overall headline budget figure.
- By end 2013: EU expected to conclude negotiations on the Commission's proposed farm reform for 2014-2020.
- 1 Jan. 2014: New CAP expected to enter into force.