Parliament makes U-turn, allows full vote on CAP reform

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Bowing to criticism that it was “undemocratic”, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee agreed Monday night (11 March) to allow the full house to vote on hundreds of amendments to the EU’s future farm policy, many of them aimed at reversing the panel’s earlier decisions. EURACTIV reports from Strasbourg.

In a stunning reversal, the committee’s chairman, Paolo De Castro, recommended that the more than 350 proposed amendments to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) go before the full Parliament.

Only on Friday did Parliament President Martin Schulz invoke a special rule allowing the panel to reduce the number of proposed changes to the CAP ahead of a debate Tuesday night (12 March).

The decision not to pare back the amendments was accepted without opposition and little comment by the leaders of all the political groups, ending a scheduled three-hour meeting in a little over 30 minutes.

“I do not want our committee to be viewed as committee that does not want the opportunity for a full debate in the plenary,” said De Castro (Socialists & Democrats, Italy), adding, “we’ve all received letters and e-mails from environmentalists, trade unions” and other pressure groups objecting to the special hearing.

‘Critical vote’

But he also warned MEPs against rejecting the committee’s draft CAP for 2014-2020 when they vote on Wednesday.

“This is a critical vote, colleagues. This is the first time we’ve had a vote and the Parliament needs to shoulder its responsibility,” he said. “What is important is to have a clear negotiating mandate.”

Under parliamentary procedures, a defeat of any of the CAP’s four legislative packages would send them back to the committee, forcing MEPs to vote again before negotiations on final legislation can begin with the full Parliament, the European Commission and the 27 EU member states.

De Castro’s call for MEPs “to avoid the risk” of negative votes on Wednesday also went unchallenged by the committee. The four sets of legislation cover direct payments, rural development, financing and common market organisations.

Green groups disappointed in CAP

Environmental groups leaving the crowded hearing have accused De Castro of trying to railroad the CAP through Parliament, but welcomed Monday’s night’s decision.

Faustine Defossez, senior agriculture policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an NGO, said the committee was under “intense pressure, internally and externally,” to allow a full parliamentary vote on all amendments.

But she and other advocates of a “greener” CAP also said it was too late to expect a major overhaul of the Parliamentary draft approved by the agriculture committee in January.

“We started so low that the plenary can’t do anything at all,” Defossez said.

The most contentious issues in plenary are expected to be the future of direct payments to farmers, environmental regulation and production support for sugar and wine producers.

Trees Robijns, EU agriculture policy officer at BirdLife Europe, earlier on Monday called the surprise agricultural committee meeting “a very undemocratic move to deny the vote of the plenary.” After the meeting, she told EURACTIV that De Castro’s warning against any no votes on the CAP “was just another move to try to beat the democratic system.”

The committee hearing was called under a special rule that allows a committee to take a whack at cutting the number of amendments ahead of a plenary vote when they number more than 50. The move is rare and in several recent cases, including a recent vote on the Common Fisheries Policy, there were also hundreds of amendments.

In October 2011, the European Commission unveiled plans for a 'greener' CAP. The 2014-2020 proposal called for:

  • Improving biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Using direct payments to encourage farmers to rotate crops as a way to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use;
  • Preserve at least 7% of land for focus areas such as buffer areas or permanent grassland to help reduce emissions.

>> Read our LinksDossier: CAP reform 2014-2020

  • 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
  • 11 April: Negotiations on CAP scheduled between Parliament, Council and Commission
  • 2014-2020: Next phase of the Common Agricultural Policy
  • 2014-2020: Next EU budget

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