The €7.5 billion top-up coming to the EU’s farming subsidies programme from the bloc’s post-COVID stimulus plan should be made available as quickly as possible, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said on Monday (7 September).
The deal on the seven-year budget the EU leaders agreed in July included an extra allocation meant exclusively for strengthening the rural development fund, which represents the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)’s second pillar.
These complementary funds were included in the historic ‘Next Generation EU’ recovery plan (NGEU) intended to help different sectors recover from the disruption caused by the pandemic.
Speaking before lawmakers on the European Parliament’s agriculture committee (COMAGRI), Wojciechowski said the Commission is looking for legal solutions to deploy the money immediately since farmers need these funds as soon as possible.
“This is a recovery fund and we have to recover now, not in two or three years,” he stressed, adding that he is optimistic about the fact that a final agreement will be reached along those lines between the European Parliament and the ministers.
A proposal to spend almost the entire amount of additional rural development funds in the next two years has been put forward in the last few weeks by the rotating EU presidency, currently held by Germany.
During the parliamentary hearing, the idea of making the €7.5 billion available as from the next budget year has been backed by several MEPs from different political groups, including the two biggest ones – the centre-right Europe’s People Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).
According to the Commissioner, the extra CAP money should not be allocated to the farming community only but is rather meant to finance the improvement of the current situation in the processing industry as well.
“A lot of problems in the EU agriculture comes from the fact that the processing industry is separated from agriculture,” Wojciechowski added, advocating for not keeping the two domains separated in the budget spending.
The Commissioner also expressed a positive evaluation of the overall budget deal, as the CAP spending will now amount to €344 billion in constant prices – or €386.7 billion in current prices, the figure he used.
This is roughly €20 billion more than what the EU executive earmarked in its proposal in July 2018, although still significantly lower than the 2014-2020 CAP budget, which totalled €383 billion, even without the UK contribution.
For Wojciechowski, the final deal was much better than what was expected and the Commission is satisfied with the avoided cuts.
The EU farming boss reiterated the EU Executive’s position when it comes to the two-year temporary scheme before the next farming subsidies programme starts.
The Commission still believes that a one-year Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) divide would fit better in the context of both Farm to Fork (F2F) implementation and NGEU. It has even threatened to withdraw the proposal as a last resort weapon, which MEPs took as a threat to their lawmaking independence.
However, after weeks of tensions, Wojciechowski sought to defuse the tensions for the first time, keeping the Commission’s window open to new arguments.
“The early use of the recovery fund may really cast some new light on this issue and maybe it will make the compromise easier,” he concluded.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]