Farmers, green groups line up in final push for CAP

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EU farm ministers are meeting Monday (24 June) for their latest round of negotiations on the post-2013 Common Agricultural Policy, under pressure to hammer out an agreement in time for a parliamentary vote next month. EURACTIV reports from Luxembourg.

Negotiators from the three institutions involved in the CAP talks – farm ministers representing national governments, the European Parliament and the Commission – must resolve lingering differences over environmental standards for farmers, a revamped subsidy scheme, and market protections for sugar beet producers.

The 2014-2020 CAP has been the target of high-pressure lobbying in the 21 months since Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolo? unveiled a “greener” policy that would impose new conservation rules on both farmers and member states.

The farm-support programme is already a year off course and negotiators conceded there is no guarantee a deal will be worked out before Ireland hands over the six-month presidency of the EU Council to Lithuania on 1 July.

“I am keenly aware of the significant challenges we face over the coming days … and we have to reach agreement on a number of highly sensitive issues on which the institutions have very strong views,” said Simon Coveney, the Irish farm minister who is chairing the talks in Luxembourg.

“Nevertheless, we must approach the negotiations with optimism, we must be willing to be flexible and, above all, we must demonstrate a clear commitment and determination to bring the process to a conclusion,” Coveney said in a statement.

An Irish official told a news briefing on Friday that Monday’s three-party talks in Luxembourg would be followed by ministerial-level discussions on Tuesday. Another three-way meeting would take place in Brussels on Wednesday that the official said “would be of substance rather than presentation.”

Negotiators met seven times last week in a bid to work out disagreements.

The CAP and its complex set of proposals will miss its deadline for implementation next year. The European Commission has prepared contingency plans for introducing the new measures in 2015 and a transitional period to shift from the existing to a new payments scheme in 2014.

Farm groups want results

But food producers have expressed growing dismay over the delays. Farmers' organisations, concerned about further setbacks, were preparing a demonstration outside Luxembourg’s Kirchberg conference centre where the EU ministers and their negotiating partners are to meet.

Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of the Copa-Cogeca, told EURACTIV a recent interview (5 June) that the negotiators “have to speed up the process” to agree on CAP policy, fearing further delays could mean that it would be autumn before the European Parliament would have a final say.

MEPs are scheduled to hold their final plenary session in Strasbourg next week before their summer recess.

In a statement before Monday’s three-way negotiations, Copa-Cogeca, which represents farmers and their cooperatives, said a “positive and rapid decision on CAP reform is vital.”

“With farmers hit by increasingly disastrous weather conditions, with farmers incomes half the average level, with food demand set to rise 70% by 2050, it is more important than every before the have a strong CAP,” the group said.

Conservationists prepare for fight

Meanwhile, groups representing environmentalists and organic farmers also planned demonstrations as the CAP negotiators met. They blame national governments for weakening conservation measures included in the Commission’s CAP proposal in October 2011, and partly backed by Parliament this spring.

WWF, a campaign group, last week accused the Council of maintaining “a hard line position which reduces positive environmental elements. For example, it has rejected proposal that make farm subsidies conditional upon existing EU laws on pesticides and water protection. Furthermore, ministers want to pay farmers twice for the same environmental activities, with any added values.”

WWF contends that Council negotiators have weakened the CAP by:

  • Replacing mandatory ‘greening’ measures with optional measures, defying an earlier Parliamentary vote in favour of standardised environmental rules for all EU farmers.
  • Giving national governments the option to transfer money from the CAP’s second pillar (which finances rural development) to the first pillar (money reserved for direct payments to farmers) to pay farmers for conservation projects. Opponents say this mixing of finances would allow farmers to be paid twice for the same project, as well as weaken rural conservation projects, whose costs are shared by the EU and member states.
  • Erasing the mandatory minimum of 25% spending on environmental projects under the second pillar.
  • Loosening standards for what are considered ecological focus areas, non-farmed land to are supposed to encourage biodiversity.

Irish officials conceded that sharp differences remained in the negotiations over some of these issues. They also said that MEPs were sticking to their position in support of sugar production quotas, opposing a phase-out before 2020 while the ministers had set a 2017 deadline.

The debate and vote on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a historic one for the European Parliament.

With powers it acquired under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, lawmakers now have a direct say in shaping the future of farm policy.

The CAP, now in its 51st year, remains the most expensive EU programme. But it has fallen from more than 70% of the budget in 1962 is likely to fall below 40% for 2014-2020. The Lisbon Treaty also gave the Parliament new powers over spending.

Despite its monolithic political and fiscal importance for the EU, agriculture is a small part of the economy: it accounts for 1.7% of GDP and 4.6% of employment, OECD figures show. Agro-food products were 6.5% of exports in 2009.

 
  • 24-25 June: CAP negotiations in Luxembourg
  • 26 June: Talks move to Brussels where a final agreement could be announced
  • 1 July: Lithuania takes over the rotating presidency of the EU Council; Croatia become the 28th EU state and a full beneficiary of the CAP
  • 2014-2020: Next phase of the Common Agricultural Policy
 

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