CAP reform: Vienna hands the reins over to Bucharest

Austrian Agriculture Elisabeth Koestinger (L) and European Commissioner for Agriculture and rural development, Phil Hogan during the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers Council in Brussels on 19 February 2018. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The debate on CAP reform has made good progress under the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. From the start of next year, Romania will play the leading role. EURACTIV Germany reports.

On New Year’s Eve, the Austrian rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Council will pass the baton to Bucharest. The Austrian Minister for Sustainability and Tourism Elisabeth Köstinger chaired a meeting of the EU agriculture ministers for the last time at the beginning of this week.

For the occasion, the politician from the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) presented a progress report summarising the state of the debate on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.

“All of the Commission’s proposals were taken up by the Austrian Presidency of the Council and the member states’ different ideas were taken into account,” Köstinger said.

She added that good progress had been made in recent months but that the report also identified where intensive work was needed.

Can Europe help combat the dying out of farms?

In the debate over the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP), there is also the question of how funding allocation can be better adapted to the regions’ specific needs. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Köstinger emphasised that the member states were, in principle, willing to go along with the transition to a more performance-related support system targeted by the Commission. However, she added that its implementation had to be designed in a more practical way than was currently planned.

In early July, the European Commission presented three reform strategy papers for the CAP. Firstly, the Commission aims to pay less attention to strict rule compliance, instead focusing more on results. Moreover, the member states should gain more powers in how the funds are used, so that the support programmes can be better adapted to the specific challenges in the respective regions.

This is also in the context of planned funding cuts to the EU budget. The European Commission wants the EU’s largest expense to be reduced by 5%. Funding has come under pressure because of Brexit and new priorities such as border management and euro stabilisation. However, because the challenges in agriculture have also become greater, the funding should be used in a more targeted way.

The so-called “horizontal regulation” is considered to be the cornerstone of the reform package. It contains a series of proposals for implementing EU agricultural subsidies.

However, the progress report by the Austrian Presidency of the Council showed that there is great concern. Many member states are worried that their national authorities will be overburdened if, as intended, they are conferred with many of Brussels’ responsibilities.

Efficient spending at the roots of MEPs divisions over new CAP

The post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) discussions started at long last in the European Parliament, but in a deeply divided Agricultural Committee. MEPs still seem a long way from an agreement on how to spend the money and who should get the subsidies.

Moreover, many funding issues remain unresolved. They have supposedly been put on hold because the size of agricultural funding in the next multiannual EU budget is still unclear.

Recently, the heads of state and government dropped the objective of taking a decision on the budget before the European elections in May 2019. The aim is now to reach an agreement in autumn 2019.

At the press conference following the meeting of the council of ministers, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan emphasised that there was still work to be done. In particular, technical issues still had to be clarified. Hogan praised the work done by the Austrian Presidency of the Council.

It will be Romania’s turn in January. “We are pleased to leave our successors with a clear picture of where the Council is,” Köstinger said. “They can therefore keep the momentum going and make as much progress as possible. We wish them good luck.”

But given the upcoming European elections and the subsequent reconstitution of the European Parliament and the European Commission, the advances made in 2019 may be smaller than those in 2018.

Further Reading

EU official: Specific conditions will make agriculture spending more efficient

The new Common Agriculture Policy budget is moving towards a science-based approach, with most targets multidisciplinary in nature and requiring member states to come up with specific national approaches,  a senior EU official told EURACTIV.com.

EU auditors insist the new CAP is unclear on climate goals measurement

The complementarity of the EU's post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy with climate change goals remains a big challenge because the objectives are vaguely defined and short on measurable details, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) told EURACTIV.com.

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