Dacian Ciolo? is stuck between a rock and a hard place over the Common Agricultural Policy he first proposed. He will need to show extraordinary resolve to overcome a possible travesty of democracy in the upcoming trialogue, argue Ariel Brunner and Pieter de Pous.
Ariel Brunner is head of EU Policy at BirdLife Europe. Pieter de Pous is policy director at the European Environmental Bureau.
Now that the European Parliament and the Council of Agricultural Ministers have decided on their position, the controversial reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) can finally enter its final stage: the trialogue. The three EU institutions are entering a conclave-like process and all NGOs and other “trialogue-watchers” can do is speculate on the colour of the smoke signalling the outcome of the deliberations.
The trialogue is a crucial part of the EU decision-making process, but there is barely anything written about it in the treaties and there are no official rules about the proceedings of these informal trilateral meetings, nor about how member state and European Parliament representatives can or have to behave during the discussions. Everything is done behind closed doors.
Those who care about public goods and good governance are shivering at the thought of what might emerge from such a process in the absence of democratic scrutiny to keep discussions focused on what is really at stake – a real CAP reform: effective, feasible and justifiable for farmers, administrators and taxpayers.
And there are plenty of reasons to worry about the trialogue and its outcome. Take the Parliament, which – thanks to the Lisbon Treaty – has first-ever full co-decision power on the CAP. After 7,000 amendments and endless internal discussions, some members of the Agriculture Committee in the European Parliament (Comagri) managed to come up with some shameless proposals that would have taken big steps backwards on previous reforms. Some egregious examples include paying farmers twice for taking the same green measure, creating exemptions left, right and centre just to allow uninterrupted subsidy streams to farmers and even the ones breaking the law.
In the plenary, that same Comagri tried to block new amendments from being brought forward. When that attempt failed, the Parliament only managed to restore half of what was necessary. Worryingly, those who will now negotiate on the CAP reform on behalf of the (whole) Parliament are coming solely from Comagri and they already “reinterpreted” the vote, thus denying some of the serious changes made to the text by the majority of their colleagues.
Observers can worry that those MEPs who voted in favour of some of the worst elements in the text will not defend a more progressive stand finally adopted by the plenary. This is shocking when considering that citizens voted in good faith for European representatives in Brussels expecting them to pursue the interests of society as a whole. The same goes for the Council, where the ministers have asked for more of what Comagri had proposed: double funding, allowing those who break the law on the Water Directive to keep receiving subsidies, and to allow production subsidies to pet sectors.
Citizens should worry about the quality of the European democratic process. There is a clear and present danger that discussions will focus just on deal-making on behalf of specific lobbies, rather than on achieving a real balanced CAP that works for all. How will the public know when their governments start to take positions that go against the long-term agriculture production capacity or in favour of the destruction of the natural capital of the country?
As always, the bigger problem is the democratic deficit, a relevant issue one year before the European elections. The fate of 40% of the EU budget, and of a crucial policy affecting all of us, is being decided de facto by a handful of MEPs who seem to have no intention at all to respect the outcome of the plenary vote and by farm ministers uninterested in wider societal interests, such as environmental protection, animal welfare, and employment in rural areas or a fairness among farmers. Just as a striking example, one must wonder whether heads of state are aware that their agriculture ministers are supporting an illegal policy such as double-funding.
Against this grim backdrop, the chances for green smoke to emerge are hanging by a thread and will now depend on the scrutiny that the European Parliament can place on its Comagri colleagues, as well as cabinet colleagues on the agriculture ministers.
The rest will depend on Commissioner Dacian Ciolo?, who made the proposal in the first place and who, stuck between a rock and a hard place, will need to show extraordinary resolve to reach an outcome that will be presentable to the public and not just to the few people inside the conclave.