In sudden move, agriculture panel gets extra power over CAP

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In a sudden decision that has angered international development groups, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee has been handed special power to pare down hundreds of amendments to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on the eve of a vote Tuesday (12 March) by the full Assembly. EURACTIV reports from Strasbourg.

The special meeting scheduled for Monday evening was agreed late Friday by Parliament President Martin Schulz. It is seen by pressure groups as an effort to deny a vote on controversial environmental and global impact amendments.

“We think it is a very undemocratic move to deny the vote of the plenary,” said Trees Robijns, EU agriculture policy officer at BirdLife Europe, who said the special meeting would give the 45-member agricultural committee the power decide what the 754-member Parliament would be able to consider.

The European Parliament plans a six-hour debate on Tuesday over a heavily-amended draft to the post-2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with a vote expected Wednesday on legislation that will form the Parliament’s negotiating position with the EU Council.

Impact on poor nations

The most fractious discussions are expected over the future of direct payments to farmers, environmental regulation and production support for sugar and wine producers. Yet development advocates say the EU has moral and legal obligations to assess the global impact of its domestic farm policy.

“For us it is very, very important to see export and import monitoring for developing countries,” said Stig Tanzmann, senior policy advisor on agriculture for Bread for the World in Berlin, who says developing countries also need a mechanism to file formal complaints against “dumping” from European countries.

“We know and we see that the poultry market, for example, has totally collapsed in Western African countries in the last 15 years,” he told EURACTIV. “We need the Europeans to open their eyes to what is happening in Ghana, Benin, Liberia and other African countries,” which he says absord one-quarter of the EU’s poultry exports.

The European Parliament’s development committee, headed by French Green MEP Eva Joly approved an amendment last year that would require the EU to provide regular assessments to the global impact of CAP policies, reflecting long-time concerns about the dumping of subsidised European farm products on poor nations.

But the agricultural committee, chaired by Italy’s Paolo De Castro (Socialists & Democrats), sidelined the requirement in a compromise draft that was approved on 23-24 January.

New monitoring proposals was included in proposed amendments submitted last week, with their fate to be decided at the special agriculture panel meeting.

The Parliament president has the option to ask a committee to pare down the number of amendments ahead of debates if there are more than 50 submitted. MEPs were not immediately available for comment on the decision on CAP amendments, which numbered more than 300.

‘High stakes’ for farmers

International development groups – including Bread for the World and the Association of World Council of Churches Related Development Organisations (APRODEV) – have lobbied for the monitoring amendment.

The United Nations’ rapporteur on the right to food has also urged the full Parliament to restore the development committee’s monitoring proposal. “Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy means high stakes not only for European farmers, but for millions of others worldwide who are affected by EU policies,” De Schutter said in an appeal ahead of the agriculture committee’s January vote.

“In order for the CAP to work for farmers inside and outside the EU, we must undertake detailed monitoring of the impacts of EU farm exports and imports on developing countries, consult developing world farmer organisations, and conduct a proper assessment of the impacts on the right to food,” he said.

The agriculture committee and its chairman have assiduously defended their draft, saying it represents a hard-won compromise that supports European farmers while helping ensure global food security. Though support is far from universal, the committee draft has the support of influential groups representing farmers and the agricultural industry.

These supporters contend that the European Commission’s original proposals for the post-2013 CAP were too rigid and that new obligations on farmers could crimp production in a world forecast to grow to 9 billion by mid-century from 7 billion today.

But development groups say that is all the more reason to ensure that the CAP and domestic supports for European farmers aren’t hurting food producers in poorer nations, where the bulk of the population growth is due to occur.

“Europe should stop thinking that it can feed the world,” the WWF environmental group said in an “Agri-myths” paper issued ahead of the Strasbourg plenary vote. The group’s position is that the EU “should stop subsidising exports that jeopardise local markets in developing countries and pushing smallholders out of business.”

WWF, APRODEV, Oxfam, and Concord are among the organisations and pressure groups pushing to revive the Parliament development committee’s monitoring amendment.

Market protections survive for some sectors

Since the 1990s, the EU has gradually reduce quotas, export subsidies and other support for farming and has while agricultural export opportunities though the Cotonou Agreement in 2000 and the 2005 Policy Coherence for Development.

Still, the helping hand has not gone away. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported in September that EU the has ramped up subsidise for dairy and poultry exports in recent years, while a report issued by APRODEV last month shows that poultry meat exports to Africa grew 115% in 2010-2011, with Africa accounting for one-third of poultry exports.

“This shows a worrying trend that is harmful for African production capacities and creates unnecessary dependency,” the Brussels-based group said in a statement.

Similarly, a 2012 analysis by the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation in the Netherlands forecast EU beef exports to grown 150% in the coming years, potentially affecting livestock farmers in West and South Africa whose governments have agreed to cut import tariffs to comply with EU trade pacts.

The debate and vote on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Strasbourg on 12-13 March marks a historic moment 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 turns 51 in 2013 and remains the most expensive EU programme. But it has fallen from more than 70% of the budget in 1962 to less than 40% for 2014-2020, under the draft budget approved by the EU Council in February. 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% or exports in 2009.

  • 12 March: Parliament to debate the CAP for 2014-2020
  • 13 March: Parliament to vote on a CAP for 2014-2020
  • 18-19 March: EU Council discusses CAP general agreement
  • 2014-2020: Next phase of the Common Agricultural Policy
  • 2014-2020: Next EU budget

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