The European Parliament’s agricultural committee began adopting dozens of amendments to the EU’s future farm policy on Wednesday (23 January), but approval remains far from certain when the full Parliament considers compromise proposals in March.
The EU executive’s plans for the ‘greening the CAP’ centre on:
- Improving biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
- Using direct payments to encourage farmers to rotate crops as a way to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use;
- Preserve at least 7% of land for focus areas such as buffer areas or permanent grassland to help reduce emissions.
Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş has called the proposals for the next CAP – covering 2014-2020 - “both simple and efficient”.
Yet farm groups and some national representatives fear the EU executive’s greening proposals could cause administrative headaches and even drive smaller farmers out of business – defeating goals to encourage small-scale production and to bring young people into a rapidly ageing industry.
The organisation representing Europe farmers and farm cooperatives – Copa-Cogeca - says the Commission’s greening proposals would introduce new layers of reporting while threatening farm income by requiring, for example, that 30% of direct payments to linked to greening performance.
With committee voting due to continue today, lawmakers are under pressure to approve a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) without knowing how much they have to spend and with just 11 months to go before implementation.
The stakes are high for the European Parliament, which for the first time has legislative powers over policies that will govern agriculture.
“It is going to be a difficult debate and a lot of [my] colleagues are not satisfied with the compromises made in the agricultural committee,” British MEP Linda McAvan (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) said during a hearing in the European Parliament’s environment and food committee.
“I am very glad Linda made that remark,” said her committee member, German MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (Socialists and Democrats), “because the views of that committee are not the views of the plenary, in fact they are light years apart.”
The environment panel met to discuss the CAP with Ireland’s farm minister as the agricultural committee began a two-day session of voting on CAP amendments.
The two panels have differed sharply over policies, including the environment committee’s support for tougher ‘greening’ requirements for farmers and for requiring the EU to monitor the impact of its farming subsidies have on food production in developing countries.
European Commission and Council officials have conceded that whatever new policies are approved, implementation will almost certainly be delayed by a year, until 2015, because there will not be enough time for national governments and farmers to absorb the new regulations.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister of agriculture and food, said a quick deal on the 2014-2020 CAP is a priority and he expects agreement soon. Ireland currently holds the six-month presidency of the EU Council.
“I think it’s worth reminding people, we have been discussion this round of the CAP for four years now and we really do need to move from discussion and debate to actual decision, and that is what the presidency will be trying to do.”
“It will require major compromises on all sides,” though Coveney conceded that “issues that need to be decided on are proving difficult to negotiate.”
There are no easy answers to several thorny environmental issues, the minister said, including linking farmers’ direct payments to requirements to diversify their crops and dedicate 7% of their land to buffers and other so-called ecological focus areas.
Asked by MEPs on the environment panel about the current negotiations, Coveney said: “I could give you the official position, which is that the Council hasn’t finalised its position yet on greening. But if you want my personal view, I think we are moving towards a compromise now.”
“You do have to allow for some flexibility for different counties, but at the same time what we are trying to do from a greening perspective is to ensure that there is equivalence and a common standard in terms of what we’re asking farmers to implement from a greening point of view in order to quality for that payment.”
The agricultural committee began two days of votes on the two main financial pillars of the CAP, direct payments to farmers and rural development, as well as proposals to phase out price supports for sugar and planting right for wine producers.
The EU Council, representing the 27 member states, is due to finalise an overall budget for 2014-2020 at a 7-8 February summit in Brussels. The next budget is likely to deliver cuts to most EU programmes, including what has traditionally been its largest, the CAP.
“There has to be a serious greening of the CAP,” Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister of agriculture and food, told the European Parliament’s environment committee. “I think that is accepted in [the] Council and certainly is the driving force behind the reform in Parliament.”
The European Environmental Bureau, and NGO, said in a statement: “After months of deliberation the Agriculture committee of the European Parliament has finally voted on CAP reform proposals. Rather than fixing a broken subsidy system they have instead proposed to add extra layers of bureaucracy and increase complexity, which would do nothing to improve the environmental performance of European farms. The Committee even voted to reduce the environmental potential of the CAP pillar 2. Their vote did support 25% minimum spending on the environment, but that is simply a preservation of the status quo.
“The CAP continues to suffer from a fundamental lack of legitimacy and the latest vote in the European Parliament to pay farmers twice for the same work shows that for some MEPs this reform is not about restoring legitimacy but to continue a ‘money for free’ approach.”
- 24 Jan.: European Parliament agriculture committee votes on CAP amendments for a second day
- 7-8 Feb.: EU budget summit in Brussels
- 11-14 March: Parliament's plenary session
- 18-19 March: EU Council discusses CAP general agreement
- 2014-2020: Next phase of the Common Agricultural Policy
- 2014-2020: Next EU budget