Commission and MEPs look for a fresh start after CAP tension

"As a Commissioner for agriculture, I'm keen to ensure that the CAP strategic plans are able to deliver on the Green Deal," said Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski in a hearing with the European Parliament's agriculture committee. [ROGE-EP]

The European Parliament and the Commission are trying to restore mutual trust after the recent quarrels about the reform of the EU’s massive farming subsidies programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

After Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans hinted last month at the possibility of retracting the Commission’s original proposal, Parliament’s negotiators reacted with surprise and irritation as a withdrawal would effectively halt the ongoing talks with the Council representing the EU27 on the CAP reform.

The Commission has tried to tone down the dispute and defuse a potential institutional crisis with a letter in which Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the executive is not considering withdrawing the proposal, although such a move is a legal and institutional possibility.

In a hearing with Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski on Tuesday (1 December), some MEPs demanded further clarifications on the Commission’s stance.

“My impression is that some people see the Commission as a defender of sustainability rather than an honest broker,” said Herbert Dorfmann, agriculture coordinator for centre-right European People’s Party (EPP)

According to the Italian lawmaker, the Commission should tone it down and ensure that there is a genuine dialogue on the strategic plans, one of the core aspects of the CAP reform and the main bone of contention with the Commission.

Through these plans, countries will set out how they intend to meet the nine EU-wide objectives using CAP instruments while responding to the specific needs of their farmers and rural communities.

In this way, the Commission aims to simplify and modernise the CAP, shifting the emphasis from compliance and rules towards results and performance.

However, the Commissioner replied that the EU executive is determined to play its role of an honest broker during the negotiations but also be a driver for greater sustainability.

“As a Commissioner for agriculture, I’m keen to ensure that the CAP strategic plans are able to deliver on the Green Deal,” said Wojciechowski.

Senior socialist MEP Paolo De Castro pointed out that the negotiators are now discussing a proposal put forward by the previous Commission that has already been improved by considering a ring-fencing for the eco-schemes at 30%.

Nevertheless, the two institutions have adopted very close positions on the environmental ambition of the reform and even Wojciechowski has stressed in the past that the Parliament’s stance is much more ambitious than the one backed by the Council.

The Commissioner also hinted that the EU executive is mulling over recommendations directed at member states that will address the actions necessary to achieve the Green Deal targets in the CAP strategic plans.

The recommendations will involve the targets set in both the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, such as the reduction of the use of pesticides or the increase of areas under organic farming.

“The recommendations are part of a structured dialogue between the member states and the Commission with a view to ensuring that the CAP strategic plans are fit for purpose while respecting the subsidiarity and flexibility foreseen in regulation,” explained Wojciechowski.

The Commission aims to publish the recommendations in a communication to the Parliament and the Council around mid-December.

The number of recommendations will be limited to approximately 15 actions per member state, highlighting only the key challenges.

The Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture (DG AGRI) is preparing the recommendations for each member state, taking into consideration a balance between economic, environmental, climate and social aspects of the agricultural policy.

Can the EU Commission scrap its CAP plan?

The European Commission’s threat to withdraw its legislative proposal for the post-2020 EU’s farming subsidies programme has irritated EU lawmakers. EURACTIV.com asked some legal experts to clear the air about the controversy.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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