Withdrawing the proposal for a reform of the EU’s farming subsidies programme is off the table, the European Commission assured farm ministers after its executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans hinted at this possibility, saying the programme could be better aligned with environmental objectives.
The reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is currently at the trilogue stage, meaning that interinstitutional negotiations are undergoing between the member states and the European Parliament.
Although joining the trilogue in the role of a mere facilitator, the EU executive can use the threat of withdrawing its initial proposal as a last resort to influence the talks.
In an interview with Dutch TV RTL Nieuws, Timmermans hinted at this possibility, in case the final agreement is not in line with the objectives of the EU’s flagship environmental policy, the European Green Deal.
Member states reacted with surprise and irritation to Timmermans’s comments and raised the issue, despite not being on the agenda, during the monthly Agrifish EU Council on Monday (16 November).
German agricultural minister Julia Klöckner, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the Agrifish Council, did not mince her words, calling the idea a threat that has “deeply upset” all 27 member states.
She said the suggestion from Timmermans that this CAP proposal was in some ways a step backwards was “utter nonsense”, emphasising that she will not stand for it.
“We need a high level of environmental protection and we don’t want to see that at risk,” Klöckner told a press conference, stressing that it will do no good to cast this proposal aside.
Pointing out that the proposal made by agricultural ministers was, in some ways, more ambitious than that proposed by the Commission, Klöckner said it was wrong to think that ministers are prepared to undermine the status quo, and called for “intellectual honesty to remain intact”.
In a debate on the EU’s food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), several member states’ delegations asked for further clarification from the Commission’s representative, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
“We are not considering the withdrawal of the CAP proposal,” Kyriakides told ministers, adding that since the Parliament and the Council have taken their positions, the priority is now to work together for a new farm policy.
Asked by EURACTIV to make it clear whether the withdrawal is still an option for the Commission, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski tried to put an end to all speculations.
“I have a clear mandate to finalise this dossier of the CAP, it’s part of my mission statement […] and we are not considering any alternatives,” he replied.
German minister Klöckner said she would write to Vice President Timmermans and give him the Council presidency’s view on the matter, highlighting that, however, unpicking institutional compromises by not taking them seriously “is bad news for any future agreement.”
Timmermans’s words caused a ruckus on the European Parliament’s side too, where representatives of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) expressed their concerns in a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, herself an EPP affiliate.
In the letter, seen by this website, five leading Christian-democrats MEPs deemed that Timmermans’s comment “is unacceptable as it does not respect the decisions made by the co-legislators.”
The role of the Commission must be to facilitate an agreement between the parties and not push its own political priorities, the letter said and added that individual views of the College Commissioners, no matter how passionately felt, must not undermine effective inter-institutional co-operation.
The European Parliament will discuss the matter during the meeting of its Agriculture and Rural Development Committee (AGRI) on Thursday (19 November).
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]