The EU’s freshly agreed agriculture policy reform caps direct payments to the largest farms, but a senior parliamentarian says that flexibility in its enforcement potentially weakens social and green commitments.
Ministers and a negotiating team from the European Parliament finalised a deal on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2014 to 2020 on Tuesday evening (24 September).
The agreement, which now passes on to the entire Parliament for vote, caps the amount farmers can receive in direct payments of over €150,000. In practice, this reduces the amount the largest farms will receive by at least 5%, the Commission says.
“Member States may choose to cap payments fully at this amount. This is up to the countries themselves to decide”, said Mairead McGuinness, the Irish MEP dealing with direct payments for the European People’s Party group in the Parliament.
The CAP has often been slated for the size of payments it allocates to a small number of very large farms, particularly in Britain and in grain-producing northern France.
The cap on payments above €150,000 does not count for greening activities.
‘Changed at will’
José Bové, a French farmer and vice-president of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, targeted the “flexibility” of enforcement the EU negotiating team injected into the deal.
The green MEP slated the agreement for taking the “common” out of CAP.
“The agreement reached confirms the end of the CAP. Not much that is common is left in this inventory of measures that can be adapted at will by each of the member states,” he said, referring to the lack of a common procedure governing the distribution of direct payments.
“Under the guise of subsidiarity, countries are going to throw themselves into productionist policies that are destructive for employment and the environment,” Bové said, adding that he would vote against the reform.
The political agreement that ministers and an EU negotiating team reached in June was hailed as a greener CAP that the previous one.
The new measures included targeting 30% of direct payments to green farming activities, such as maintaining permanent grassland, crop diversification and setting aside land for ecological purposes.
“This is a dramatic change,” the Commission’s head of unit for agriculture, Pierre Bascou, said at a conference in the Parliament on Tuesday.
The negotiating team has also attempted to safeguard rural employment by including the possibility to deduct salary costs from the direct payment calculations.
Parliamentarians had attempted to reduce one of the main outstanding points in the CAP negotiations, the transference of funds between the scheme’s two “pillars”, agriculture and rural development.
EU countries will be able to transfer up to 15% of their national envelope of direct payments (for farming) to their rural development budget. EU countries which receive less than 90% of the average of direct payments can shift up to 25%. MEPs had sought to reduce this “flexibility”, EURACTIV understands.
A spokesperson for Bové told EURACTIV in an email: “The flexibility of the envelopes between the 1st and the 2nd pillar is also an ‘a la carte’ system which weakens the financial capacity of the member states, in particular the new entrants, which will need to keep these financial means in the 2nd pillar but which will suffer pressure from those who would lower the level of their support from the 1st pillar as a windfall in the 2nd pillar.”
Instead, the Parliament demanded an increase in the rate of EU-funded support for rural development in less-developed regions, the outermost periphery of the Union and the smaller Islands in the Aegean. The level of co-funding stands at 85% for these regions.
Parliamentarians may make last-minute amendments to the text ahead of the vote but wholesale changes risk the need to open up the legislative process again, putting the transitional phase and final implementation of the CAP in jeopardy, the European Commission and Parliament negotiators say.
Therefore, the text is expected to remain mostly unchanged as it heads to vote. The Parliament’s negotiators expect a large majority in favour but opposition may come from the Greens and European Conservatives and Reformists.