The Portuguese presidency of the EU Council aims to meet the European Parliament halfway by increasing up to 25% the eco-scheme ring-fencing, in a bid to break the deadlock on the green architecture of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) reform.
At the next Agrifish EU Council, scheduled on 26 April, the rotating EU presidency held by Portugal will ask EU-27 ministers to move away from the Council’s original mandate that fixed the ring-fencing of eco-scheme at 20%, an EU source told EURACTIV.
One of the main bones of contention between the two lawmakers currently negotiating the reform of the CAP, the EU’s farming subsidy programme, has been on the ring-fencing of eco-schemes, namely the percentage of direct payments budget that will be earmarked for eco-schemes.
In their respective mandates voted in October, the Council put forth a proposal for 20% of mandatory eco-schemes, while the Parliament upped the ambition to 30% and an overall budget figure of €58.7 billion.
The presidency will suggest that ministers adopt a progressive approach, starting with a ringfencing of 22% that will gradually reach 25% in 2025, in order to meet the European Parliament’s starting position halfway.
The proposal seeks to bring the European Parliament and the Council closer ahead of a crucial negotiation meeting on the CAP strategic plans that will take place on 30 April, the EU source continued.
The eco-scheme concept represents the main new feature of the proposed CAP, replacing the green direct payments introduced in the past programme.
Eco-schemes consist of additional environmental actions designed to reward farmers for certain agricultural practice considered important in delivering environmental goals.
Despite the Portuguese attempt to bridge the gap with the Parliament’s position, EURACTIV has learnt that several member states are reluctant to go beyond a ring-fencing of 20%.
In the preparatory meeting with the EU-27 ambassador on 12 April, some member states called on the Portuguese presidency to stick to the original mandate.
However, for the Portuguese, it seems clear that the Council cannot have just 20% and that the final figure has to lie somewhere between the two positions.
“I’m optimistic [on striking a final deal] but the European Parliament is not ready for compromise at any price,” the chair of Parliament’s agriculture committee, Norbert Lins, told EURACTIV’s Agrifood podcast last week.
Maria do Céu Antunes, the Portuguese minister and leading negotiator for the Council, will stay in Brussels the whole week after the Agrifish council to convince other ministers and prepare the talks on the strategic plans on 30 April.
Once the CAP reform is sealed by the EU legislators, member states will be expected to declare the eco-schemes they intend to pursue in their national strategic plans, which the EU executive will ultimately have to approve.
Speaking before MEPs last week, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski anticipated that in the ongoing discussions on the CAP reform, EU lawmakers are likely to admit animal welfare as an eco-scheme, meaning that farmers putting in practice animal welfare initiatives might receive EU subsidies.
“This is money for investment because you have to invest if you want to improve animal welfare implementing alternative methods,” he said.
In January, the Commission presented its list of suggested eco-schemes that put a strong focus also on agroecology practices, organic farming, Integration Pest Management (IPM), and other farming practices designed to avoid physical degradation of the soil.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]