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.
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.