The European Parliament’s agriculture committee has approved a negotiating mandate for upcoming talks with national ministers on a transitional period for EU farming subsidies. It pushes back Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform until 2023.
In their first-ever remote voting session on Tuesday (28 April), COMAGRI lawmakers reached an agreement that will ensure payments to farmers continue to flow even without a deal on reforming the CAP.
MEPs backed in principle a one-year duration for the transition CAP, which the European Commission has championed, but also proposed an automatic extension by another year, to be triggered in the highly likely case that neither the bloc’s long-term budget (MFF) nor post-2020 CAP will be agreed before October.
With that, MEPs intend to buy more time for farmers by ensuring the continuation of sufficient support for the sector, even if there is a lack of clear direction for CAP reform and severe disruption caused by the ongoing public health crisis.
“Farmers need predictability, stability and financial continuity and a clear horizon for the upcoming two years,” said the lead MEP on the file, Finland’s Elsi Katainen (Renew), after the vote.
Once the plenary gives the final go-ahead to the Parliament’s position in May, negotiations with ministers will start immediately. A final agreement before the end of June, and the Croatian presidency’s hand-over to Germany, is the goal.
Establishing intermediate 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.
EU agriculture ministers approved only a partial mandate earlier this month, as they were still debating whether to go for a one or two year transitional period.
The length of the period is expected to be a bone of contention during interinstitutional talks, but MEPs are motivated to see the arrangements adopted as smoothly as possible.
In an internal working document seen by EURACTIV, the Commission seems willing to extend the 2014-2020 Cohesion Policy and the current programmes by two years until 2022 to cater for the most immediate needs of the crisis.
Considering the similarities between the CAP and Cohesion Policy, the EU executive could follow a similar path for the bloc’s main farming subsidies programme.
The CAP transitional regulations are closely linked to the MFF discussion, as the money allocated in the programmes will be decided by EU leaders.
In the mandate agreed by COMAGRI, MEPs reiterate the need to avoid further cuts to the CAP in the next MFF, insisting that funding must be maintained at 2014-2020 levels in real terms.
Ceilings for both direct payments in the CAP’s first pillar and rural development support in 2021 should be based on those in the EU’s 2020 budget, the lawmakers stressed in an amendment.
Rapporteur Katainen said that European farming need clear rules and strong financing during these uncertain times, as food producers cannot work under an ‘old rules, less money’ framework.
“It is obvious that we cannot do more with less. Member states must be able to prepare for the new CAP in a timely and well-resourced manner during this transition period,” she added.
COMAGRI also passed an amendment by socialist MEP Paolo De Castro, which called for the crisis reserve to be financed from outside the CAP at the current level starting from 2021, without having to return it if it is not used, and with the possibility of increasing it without limits.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]