EU member states are trying to preserve “absurd” agricultural situations when it comes to redistribution of farming payments, according to one MEP, who stressed that the European Parliament is not willing to budge on the matter.
The next reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU’s massive farm subsidy programme, whose details are currently under intense negotiation, aims to introduce a mandatory distribution percentage for all member states.
Speaking during a recent EURACTIV event, the Italian centre-right lawmaker Herbert Dorfmann emphasised the importance of an obligatory redistribution system from the biggest farms to the smaller family farms of “at least 10% of the resources,” stating that this is an area where the Parliament is not willing to back down.
“We will not accept in the Parliament that the member states can opt out from redistribution because, if we concede an opt-out system, fundamentally it’s up to the member states if they want to do redistribution or not,” he said.
“You see that the member states are very often trying to preserve completely absurd situations and they are not willing to go to their farmers [and] to the people who benefit from this policy and say ‘no, now it’s finished, the policy has changed and we need to have new rules’,” he complained.
One of the main issues with the Council’s proposition is the inclusion of a “safeguard clause”, he explained. This would ensure that no entitlement would lose more than 30% of its value.
Taking an example of his home country, Italy, where entitlements can sometimes amount to as much as €10,000 per hectare, the MEP questioned why farmers should be afforded such a safeguard.
“Why should I say or give to the owner of this entitlement the opportunity to say for another seven years, we safeguard this situation, you will not lose more than €3,000, [whether they have] maize or permanent grassland or pasture? This is complete nonsense.”
One tool for redistributing CAP payments more fairly is the so-called internal convergence mandatory target – another bone of contention in the current negotiations between Parliament and the EU ministers.
Convergence is the process to redistribute and flatten the value of CAP payment entitlements to iron out historical differences and better reflect the current situation and challenges of particular areas.
While there is a larger focus given to external convergence of decoupled direct payments, which aligns all payments between member states, the recent CAP reform negotiations have seen a battle raging on internal convergence, which evens out all payments between farmers within the same member state.
While the Parliament is in favour of a non-negotiable 100% redistribution, it is facing staunch opposition from the Council, pushing for only 85% with the option of added flexibility.
The move is also contested by a number of farmers’ associations, some of whom warn that this may see EU funding spread too thin.
But it is “completely unacceptable” that some member states continue to calculate the value of entitlements in the first pillar based partly on what was grown on the farm over two decades ago, according to Dorfmann.
However, Yves Madre, co-founder of Farm Europe, a think tank that aims to stimulate thinking on rural economies, stressed that negotiators should also consider what is feasible when it comes to internal convergence.
“We have to look at the cumulative impact of budget cuts on financial ramifications associated with the new CAP,” he warned, adding that now is the time for a “balanced and strong solution, not for a debating game”.
‘Big steps’ taken on redistribution
From the Commission’s side, Gijs Schilthuis, head of policy perspectives unit at the Commission’s DG AGRI, said some “big steps” were already taken in negotiations when it comes to the issue of redistribution and fairness and a lot has already been achieved to bridge the gap between the two positions.
“I think we should not underestimate how many smaller and bigger points were on the table and where solutions were found,” he said, adding that, despite the remaining sticking points, he was hopeful a deal would be concluded by the end of June.
On internal convergence, he said full convergence was “something that the Commission has been pursuing” and the executive is “working hard to find a compromise” on the matter.
Ahead of the resumption of negotiations over the future of the CAP, all of the top agricultural players have been in Portugal this week.
However, according to an EU official, it seems that so far there has been little movement on the thorniest issues left for discussion, especially on the alignment of the national strategic plans with any future legislation arising from the European Green Deal, which delegations felt requires an impact assessment.
On the issue of eco-schemes, concerns remain over the flexibilities on offer to avoid unspent funds reserved for eco-schemes, the official said.
No clear consensus was found either on the outstanding issues for the strategic plan regulations, such as GAEC 9, which stipulates the minimum percentage share of agricultural areas devoted to non-productive features, targeted payments, coupled support, ringfencing of funds from the second pillar, and tying funding with social conditions.
The Portuguese presidency will now prepare the final Council position to be endorsed at the next Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting on 21 June, ahead of the final trilogue, provisionally scheduled for 24-25 June.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]