Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolo? faced a barrage of criticism yesterday (7 November) over plans to overhaul the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) before a rare gathering of national farm ministers and members of the European Parliament.
The European Commission announced its blueprint for the EU's 2014-2020 budget six months ago, which largely leaves current funding for the CAP untouched at €53 billion per year.
Putting a legislative blueprint on the table in September, The Commission then proposed changes that include setting aside more land for conservation, streamlining policies and taking steps to equalise payments to farmers in newer member states.
But Ciolo? said that some of the proposals were misinterpreted on many fronts and defended the reforms to one of the EU's signature programmes. He said the changes were aimed at improving productivity while ensuring sustainable agricultural growth.
“It's important to get efficiency in agriculture but not in a way that is bad for the environment,” he told the Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development at a meeting that also included a number of national agriculture ministers.
He said other proposals – including requiring farmers to expand natural buffers and forest area – were aimed at increasing productivity while also taking steps to combat global warning. He denied the reforms would cut food production at a time of rising commodity prices and mounting concerns about global food security.
The parliament's discussion is a precursor to a year-long of jockeying over the farm-support programme. If approved as proposed, the 7-year, €371.72-billion programme would account for 36% of EU's spending, the bloc's largest single programme and one its most hotly contested.
Several farm ministers questioned whether the policies will reduce requirements that farmers must follow to receive direct payments – accounting for some 70% of CAP spending – a contentious issue with farm co-ops and trade unions. Some of the proposals include setting aside 7% of farmland for forests and buffers and diversifying the types of crops grown.
Ministers Ilse Aigner of Germany and Sabine Laruelle of Belgium both said the 650 pages of Commission proposals could impose more paperwork on farmers despite pledges to streamline rules.
Simplification is “a core point,” Aigner told Ciolo?. "Overall we fear that the proposals would actually lead to more of an administrative burden."
Eastern countries unhappy
Meantime, the EU's newer members complained that despite promises to equalise payments to farmers, there appeared to be little change under the draft budget. Lithuanian MEP Juozas Imbrasas (Freedom and Democracy Group) said payments to farmers Lithuania are half what the €942 million made to Danish growers even though the countries have similar amounts of agricultural land, and that under the proposed CAP reform the change would be marginal.
He said the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 all entered the farm support programme on an unequal footing, and those inequalities appear to persist.
“We were gradually supposed to reach the same level of direct payments, but this was to end in 2013,” he said. “How long is it going to last? This is not in compliance with the basic principles of the European Union.”
“Allocating direct payments is of key importance for the future CAP if you want to have agriculture throughout the European Union and not just in parts of the European Union,” Imbrasas said.