The European Parliament has pushed back a key vote on the details of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform to January to allow time for proper scrutiny, going against the Commission’s wishes to speed up the procedure.
With deadlines looming large for the next steps of the CAP reform, the European Commission pushed for what is known as an “early non-objection” vote on two cornerstone pieces of CAP-related secondary legislation, the so-called ‘delegated acts’.
This last assent from the Parliament would have fast-tracked the process of the formal adoption of the EU’s farming subsidy programme, which could have been concluded at the Strasbourg plenary this week.
Specifically, the approval of these acts is a crucial step to give the member states a fully-fledged legal framework for preparing the strategic plans, the drafts of which are due for submission to the European Commission for its approval by the end of the year.
The vote was set to take place last Thursday (9 December). Still, elected members were provided with the texts of the delegated acts – around 60 pages long – only after their approval at the College of Commissioners around midday on 7 December.
Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski sent a letter addressed to MEPs the day after (8 December), urging the Parliament to push the laws through as quickly as possible.
According to parliamentary sources, the move from the EU executive sparked criticism from MEPs, who told EURACTIV that the majority in the Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI) wanted to have more time to scrutinise the delegated acts.
In case of a vote, socialists, liberals, greens, leftists, and the far-right would have voted against the delegated acts. In contrast, Christian-democrat and conservative MEPs would have supported the Commission but not in a unified fashion.
As such, the AGRI committee opted not to back the Commission’s wishes and postponed the vote, which is now provisionally pencilled in for 10 January followed by its adoption in the plenary session a week later, a Parliamentary source confirmed to EURACTIV.
Why Parliament opposed
According to parliamentary sources, there was an accountability issue behind the refusal of voting on the acts. The early non-objection procedure proposed by the Commission would have prevented the Parliament from coming back later on the same matter in case something went wrong.
European lawmakers were not keen to take political ownership of approving the main details of the CAP implementation entirely in the dark. They also wanted to buy some time for their constituencies to look at the secondary legislation before formal approval.
“It’s also a matter of principle,” one parliamentary source said, hinting at the fact that MEPs were left with only two days to review and vote on the acts instead of the usual two months Parliament is afforded to scrutinise the subsidiary legislation.
Besides the inability to exercise due diligence on the acts, elected members raised concerns that this undermined the Parliament’s position as a co-legislator, stirring up feelings of discontent between the institutions.
Sources also reserved criticism for the Commission’s role in ensuring the smooth adoption of the acts in the Parliament, saying any efforts have been too little, too late.
“Everything from the Commission came too late, the texts too, and responses were slow,” one source said.
Despite the delay from the Parliament’s side, a Council source confirmed to EURACTIV that the special committee of agriculture (SCA) meeting plans to “continue with the process as envisaged”, approving an early non-objection towards those delegated acts on Friday (10 December).
As deadlines for submitting CAP strategic plans loom, it is unclear the impact this will have on the next steps for the reform.
Some stakeholders suggested that Parliament’s postponement could see member states’ demanding an extension on the deadline to deliver their draft CAP strategic plans due at the end of this year.
However, contacted by EURACTIV, one Parliamentary source said they “do not see an issue” with a 3-week delay, pointing out that everyone already knows the content of the delegated acts, which remains mostly untouched from the previous CAP.
“So there will be no changes, member states know the legal basis,” the source said. At the same time, another pointed out that, as countries are still able to submit their strategic plans with or without the green light from the Parliament and return to the details at a later day, this “shouldn’t be much of a problem”.
Likewise, the Council source added that they were “not overly concerned” with potential delays to the process.
“As regards the consequences, I think that’s something we will have to see, together with the Commission and the European Parliament, in terms of how much this has an impact on the preparation of the strategic plans,” they said.
Julia Dahm contributed to the reporting
[Edited by Alice Taylor]