Agriculture Commissioner backs Poland’s plan to hike CAP spending

Janusz WOJCIECHOWSKI [EC/BENDO]

The EU’s Agriculture Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, has said he will recommend that member states support Poland’s proposal to increase the budget for EU’s farming subsidies by 10% compared to what the Commission proposed in 2018.

On the eve of the EU Agrifish Council, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki sent a letter to Wojciechowski proposing an increase of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that would be entirely allocated to environmental and climate actions under the CAP’s first and second pillar, namely direct payments and rural development support.

A 10% increase in bloc’s farming subsidies program would enhance its contribution to the European Green Deal and accelerate the external convergence in a non-conflicting manner, the letter says.

Indeed, the concept itself of convergence, designed to gradually bridge differences in the average support per hectare after the bloc’s Eastern enlargement, has recently faced criticism by some EU countries who oppose including this in the next CAP.

According to the Polish position, increasing the CAP budget allows all EU member states to continue taking concrete actions in the face of challenges affecting member states due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked by a Polish journalist to comment on the letter, Polish Commissioner Wojciechowski said that Poland’s proposal was “very interesting and we should seriously consider it,” and that he will “encourage the Council” to do it during the political debate on the updated multi-annual financial framework (MFF) proposal.

“Each voice in favour of increasing the CAP budget is good news,” he said, adding that the Polish proposal is proportionate as it increases each national envelope for the CAP.

New EU budget proposal reignites battle against CAP cuts

As the European Commission prepares to put forward an updated multi-annual financial framework proposal (MFF) next week (29 April), the agri-food sector has unanimously called for keeping post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) spending at least at its current level in value and avoiding further cuts.

CAP pride

“We have to be loyal to our Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), said Marija Vučković, the agriculture minister of Croatia, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council until July, recalling that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the flagship farming subsidy programme.

For Vučković, EU countries remain committed to the message that the CAP demonstrates its effectiveness and defends the integrity of the single market.

“The CAP must return to the centre of political attention in the EU and the Commission must make itself heard,” said Italy’s agriculture minister Teresa Bellanova.

According to Wojciechowski, there is already a common opinion across the member states that the EU needs to strengthen the heading devoted to farmers in the MFF, the EU’s seven-year budget, with particular regard to the rural development fund since it has a role in reducing differences among member states.

The Commissioner stressed that the crisis has made even more clear the need to provide the CAP with more tools for crisis management. “Our agricultural policy is prepared for normal time, but not for a crisis and it should be reformed in the future to improve the possibilities of intervention in these situations,” he said.

The 2013 reform established a crisis reserve fund, designed to support the sector when crises affect production and/or distribution.

Although the fund can be used to finance exceptional measures to counteract market disruption, it is set up each year through reductions to direct payments under the financial discipline mechanism.

“We should change the nature of the crisis reserve and it should be independent of the direct payments”, said Wojciechowski, noting that this adds political sensitiveness to the matter, which prevents member states from deploying the reserve.

EU agri-food sector puzzled by crisis reserve conundrum

As the exceptional measures taken by the European Commission have not been deemed adequate to relieve distressed agri-food markets, the idea of deploying the so far unused crisis fund, set up in the 2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, is coming to the fore.

More CAP, less state aid

In the letter, the Polish government criticised the new state aid programme launched by the Commission to cope with the negative consequences of the pandemic in agriculture.

Although necessary, this aid entails a real risk of creating new disparities by weakening the existing positive effects of cohesion and rural development policies, the letter says.

As some member states will not be able to afford high levels of state aid, the new antitrust framework could create “a drastic deepening of development gaps and conditions of agricultural competition in the EU common market.

The Polish letter concludes by saying that agriculture can only withstand these additional challenges by receiving a common, adequate budgetary support.

Wojciechowski also agreed that the EU should monitor this “special situation” because it could be a cause for concern for the single market and fair competition in the member states.

EU agri chief warns against risks of state aid overuse in farming sector

Excessive use of state aid to bail out struggling farmers during the COVID-19 crisis could be a cause for concern for the single market and fair competition in the member states, according to the European Commissioner for agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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