Council ready to start negotiations on bridging CAP divide

A meeting at the EU Council in time of coronavirus. [EUROPEAN UNION]

Agriculture sherpas rubber-stamped a partial negotiating mandate to discuss with MEPs the transition period that will allow EU farming subsidies to flow even without an agreement on post-2020 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

On Monday (6 April), representatives of the 27 member states gave the go-ahead for the negotiations on CAP transitional regulations in the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting, a preparatory body of the Agrifish Council.

The partial mandate is not a formal procedure but has been used many times as a tool to start talks with the European Parliament, the other co-legislator.

Two member states asked to add a reference to the COVID-19 in the final statement, a request that was ignored by the Croatian presidency.

Contacted by this website, a source in the presidency described the agreement as “a good signal, in times like this.”

Marija Vučković, the agriculture minister of Croatia, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council until July, told EURACTIV in late January that “clinching a deal on this is very necessary to ensure the continuation of direct payments, as well as the funding of new projects in the rural development programme in 2021”.

Croatian farm minister: Getting transitional CAP done by mid-2020 on presidency's radar

The Croatian EU presidency will focus its efforts on securing an agreement among member states on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)’s transitional regulations that will extend the current rules for at least a year, Croatia’s Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković told EURACTIV in an interview.

The give is to the Parliament

The approval of the transitional arrangements has become a race against the clock, as the transitional period should be adopted before and enter into force ahead of 1 August 2020, which is the deadline for multiple member states’ notifications to the Commission.

At the same time, transitional CAP depends on money being allocated to it in the bloc’s Multiannual financial framework (MFF), on which talks are proceeding slowly at the European Council.

The European Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI) is now expected to vote on the report later this month, after having already had a first exchange of views about the dossier on 18 February.

The rapporteur for the European Parliament is the experienced Finnish MEP Elsi Katainen (Renew Europe), who published a draft report in January.

A member of her entourage told EURACTIV that the negotiation team is committed on the agreed and original timetable, which could mean a vote in the next possible plenary session, likely to be in mid-May.

Once the Parliament approves its mandate, negotiations with ministers will start immediately with a view to reaching a final agreement before the end of June, when the Croatian presidency will end.

In a recent interview with EURACTIV, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he did not think that the COVID-19 crisis would substantially affect the adoption of the CAP transitional regulation.

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Asked about the possibility to conduct trilogue negotiations by video-conference, the Commissioner said that both the European Parliament and the EU Council have the capacity to adjust procedures and organise both negotiations and the adoption of proposals, even if physical meetings are restricted.

“But I hope early mid-May we would able to sit down,” a diplomatic source told EURACTIV, adding that “nothing can compare with physical meetings.”

The source added that, if co-legislators will be able to start after Parliament’s plenary, they will have “enough time to conclude talks on everything.”

A CAP for the decade?

A bone of contention during talks will be to agree on how long the transitional period will last.

EU ministers are still debating whether to go for a two-year transitional period or a one-year duration, which the Commission has called for.

The Czech Republic didn’t support the final Council position because the two-year reference wasn’t mentioned already in the mandate.

Even the duration of the transitional period is closely linked to the MFF discussion, a diplomatic source explained.

The source added that, in case of a two-year transitional period, the post-2020 CAP reform could impact upon the succeeding programme for 2028-2034.

“It wouldn’t make sense to start the next CAP in 2023 and have a discussion on a new model in 2026 again,” he said.

In a recent opinion, the European Court of Auditors warned about the dangers of a lengthy extension of the transitional period, as it would result in a delayed adoption of the post-2020 legislative framework, holding back the implementation of a potentially more ambitious CAP.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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