Commission: New CAP will be ‘fairer, not simpler, but maybe greener’


France is one of the agricultural powehouses in the EU. [Matthias Ripp/Flickr]

Eighteen months after EU institutions agreed on a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), there is still much uncertainty about the actual changes the new policy will bring compared to previous ones.

After almost two years of negotiation, the European Parliament, Council and Commission reached a political agreement in September 2013 on the few issues on CAP reform that remained outstanding after a political agreement was struck on 26 June.

>> Read our LinksDossier: CAP 2014-2020: A long road to reform

But deep uncertainties remain as the vast majority of CAP legislation still needs to be defined under four implementing regulations related to rural development, horizontal issues, direct payments for farmers, and market measures.

As a result, farmers and stakeholders are still confused as to how the new CAP will be implemented in practice.

Tassos Haniotis, director for economic analysis at the European Commission’s agriculture department (DG AGRI), said the new CAP was going to be “peculiar”? because of the new Commission taking charge. The official was speaking at the conference Good Food, Good Farming organised by environmental NGOs in Brussels on Tuesday (10 February).

The motto of the last reform was to make the CAP “fairer, simpler and greener”, but Haniotis warned those objectives will not be all met.

“It is not going to be as fair as some would like, but clearly it’s going to be fairer than what we had in the past,” he said.

The CAP is however not going to be simpler, Haniotis warned, mentioning the issue of “ecological focus area” as an example where negotiations between the Commission, Council and Parliament have added new layers of complexity.

“Whether the new CAP will be greener is still a question mark,” the official said, drawing the attention of environmentalists on other issues than ecological focus areas. “Apart from the 1% of funding which goes into this particular area, there’s the permanent grass land, crop diversification, the impact on climate change, and a monitoring and evaluation framework that will allow us to target specific measures and access the effectiveness in very concrete environments,” Haniotis said.

Changing agriculture not determined by CAP

Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of Friends of the Earth Europe, said CAP challenges were still lying ahead and that the discussion on sustainable agriculture remained more topical than ever.

“The food system we have is not really sustainable,” she said. “In the ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations we are facing potential down-scaling of the standards on both sides of the Atlantic. The standards are different and it won’t be possible to really converge them. We believe that the benefits will go to the few and the cost will go to the citizens and the environment on both sides,” the director added.

“We do need to discuss how to enhance sustainable agriculture and rural agriculture that sustains the local eco system and supports and respects the resource limit of the planet,” Stoczkiewicz emphasised.

?Renate Künast, a former German federal minister for Agricultural and Rural Development, said the CAP places a lot of focus on “the market” but that the Commission tends to think of consumers and taxpayers as being outside of it.

“For me the market includes both the producers and the consumers who play an important part,” Künast said. “Of course the market determines how we produce food, how intensively we produce and which fertilisers we use. There is also the influence of soils and loss of agricultural land, a loss of crops and animals. Birds and bees are moving to the cities as they can’t live in the countryside anymore. So the market is failing and this is to the decrement of the consumers,” she said.

In the mission letter he received from Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Phil Hogan, the commissioner in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development, was asked to provide ideas on how the Commission’s €315 billion investment package can strengthen the EU’s agriculture sector. Hogan is supposed to focus on ensuring that rural development spending is well integrated into jobs- and growth-generating investment strategies, at both national and regional levels.

Another element of his assignment is to bring more flexibility, and to simplify the CAP instruments. In particular, Hogan is expected to present proposals for simplification in the areas of direct payments and in particular as regards greening, rural development, quality policy and the fruit and vegetables scheme.

Totalling nearly €60 billion per year, the EU's farm budget consumes some 40% of the European Union's €130 billion annual spending.

In June 2011, the European Commission tabled a proposal for the EU's 2014-2020 budget, which largely leaves current farm funding untouched, although slight cuts will be introduced gradually.

One of the main challenges addressed by the EU's CAP reform is to gradually shift existing subsidies to the newer member states of Central and Eastern Europe, without increasing the overall headline budget figure.

>> Read our LinksDossier: CAP 2014-2020: A long road to reform

Subscribe to our newsletters