Agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (19 March) forged an incomplete compromise farm policy ahead of key negotiations on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with Slovakia and Slovenia refusing to sign off on the deal.
The most divisive issues in the 2014-2020 CAP have been the force of environmental measures, establishing a uniform per-acre payment for farmers, and the future of protectionist measures for sugar and wine producers.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s agricultural minister, said late Tuesday – after two days of late-night talks – that “this process has not been easy” but in the end “we have managed to get a common agreement.”
Slovakia and Slovenia, whose farm ministers argued that their countries did not get a fair deal, refused to sign the accord.
The 25-2 vote in favour “gives me a very strong mandate now to go into the next stage of negotiations to try to conclude this process,” said Coveney, who vowed to reach a final deal on the CAP before Ireland's EU presidency ends on 30 June.
EU officials are wrestling against time to produce a CAP with just nine months before it is to go into effect. Representatives of the EU Council, the Parliament and the Commission are due to meet on 11 April to start negotiations on the final text that could drag into June.
“What we’ve tried to do is accommodate key concerns and in that way satisfy all countries that they’ve got something significant in these changes, and at the same time accepting that other countries may also need to get something significant,” Coveney, said after the first day of negotiations.
The compromise keeps alive some quotas, particularly for sugar, but would eliminate these in 2017, two years earlier than what the European Parliament sought.
Less ‘greening’ than hoped
Environmentalists were quick to denounce the deal, saying it defied European Commission efforts to introduce mandatory ‘greening’ standards.
“The Council endorsed a new complex and costly mechanism of ‘greening by definition’, which would exempt many farmers from doing anything at all for the environment and which had been clearly rejected by the European Parliament plenary,” the European Environment Bureau, an independent conservation group, said in a statement.
“It now becomes ever clearer that what was originally dubbed a 'green' CAP reform is becoming a greenwash," said Trees Robijns, EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe.
On 13 March, the European Parliament approved a heavily amended proposal that reversed efforts to remove obligatory environmental measures for farmers as first proposed by the Commission in 2011, but defied earlier agreements and restored quotas for sugar beet farmers and planting rights for grape growers.
EU officials have expressed hope that the full deal could be agreed during the Irish presidency of the EU Council, but acknowledge that the new laws will not be fully implemented until 2015.
Coveney, who is overseeing the negotiations, said a deal among national ministers was essential.
“If we want to conclude an inter-institutional agreement with the European Parliament and the Commission by the end of June, we need to agree a Council general approach now,” he said ahead on Friday (15 March). “The Parliament demonstrated this week that it is ready to play its part. The Council must now do likewise.”