CAP reform vote hailed as a 'step in the right direction'
THE NFU has hailed MEPs’ Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform vote this week as a ‘significant improvement’ on the European Commission’s original proposals, published in 2011.
But the vote by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee has been criticised by environmental bodies as ‘retrograde step’ and prompted claims it is returning the CAP to the ‘bad old days’ of market intervention and food mountains.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “The NFU was deeply disappointed with the Commission’s proposals when they were issued almost 18 months ago, but this week’s vote has brought about significant improvement in many areas, removing some of the worst excesses of unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape from the proposals.”
In particular, he welcomed the MEPs’ vote on a simpler ‘active farmer’ test and ‘more workable’ greening measures that allow farmers in agri-environment schemes to qualify automatically.
Mr Raymond said the MEPs responded to NFU calls for changes to the way in which entitlements will operate in the future and a ‘properly functioning national reserve’.
MEPs also delivered on a ‘more proportionate risk based penalty system, including an early warning system for minor breaches and the removal of the sheep EID from cross compliance, while sugar beet growers were supported with a vote to extend the quota regime.
Mr Raymond said MEPs have ‘delivered for us on all of these areas and more’ but said there were areas of concern, including the ‘incredibly backwards step’ to increase the potential scope for coupled support payments. He warned this could result in ‘market distortions and ‘potentially get the EU into hot water with the WTO’.
Mr Raymond also criticised the move to increase the flexibility of member states to move money between the two pillars of the CAP to up to 15 per cent and to support capping of payments to the largest beneficiaries, which will disproportionately hit UK farmers.
The Country land and Business Association (CLA) said the vote represented a ‘far better deal than originally proposed by the Commission’ but said there was still ‘some cause for concern’. His main concern is the ability for the UK Government to transfer funds from Pillar One to Pillar Two ‘in a way that could threaten the competitiveness of UK farmers’.
“The proposals put forward by MEPs could easily lead to UK farmers receiving considerably less than their counterparts on the continent,” he said.
Copa-Cogeca, the umbrella EU farming body, welcomed the vote as a ‘step in in the right direction’ but said the improvements on the original proposals ‘do not go far enough’.
Its secretary general Pekka Pesonen said: “We have serious concerns that the EU will be the only state that will be cutting back on its agricultural potential at a time when there are major worries about food security,” he said.
He warned that the flexibility that now runs throughout the proposals could result in ‘very different levels of funding’ and ‘serious distortions of competition’ between member states”.
Jenna Hegarty, a senior agricultural policy with the RSPB, said the committee had voted for ‘retrograde policies worsening the outlook for wildlife while providing poorer value for money for European taxpayers’.
“Rather than reforming Europe’s farming policies, yesterday’s decisions are taking us into the dark past when cronyism and vested interests won the day,” she said.
She urged the full EU Parliament to look again at issues like ‘double-funding’, which would mean paying for the same environmental activity twice, something she ‘we simply cannot afford to do’ when it votes on the package in March.
This vote will pave the way for negotiations with EU Ministers on a final CAP reform package the various parties hope to conclude by the end of June.