MEPs set for crucial CAP vote

THE European Parliament will hold a crucial vote over the next two days that will lay out the basis for negotiations over the next five months over a new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

MEPs, who now have joint decision-making powers with EU Ministers, submitted nearly 8,000 amendments to the European Commission’s controversial CAP reform proposals.

These have largely been distilled into a number of ‘compromise’ amendments that draw together the views of MEPs across the Parliament. The Parliament’s Agriculture committee will vote on these amendments on Wednesday and Thursday (January 23 and 24).

The amendments significantly alter key elements of the European Commission’s controversial CAP reform package – generally for the better as far as UK farmers are concerned.

For example, on ‘greening’ Pillar One:

  • MEPs allow farmers in agri environment schemes that are at least equivalent to the greening measures to be ‘green by definition’.
  • A menu option is included allowing membership of certain certified schemes - including nutrient management plans, energy efficiency plans, crop rotations, soil cover and integrated pest management - to also qualify for greening.
  • The three original measures proposed by the Commission have been modified to make them more palatable to farmers, including setting Ecological Focus Areas at 3 per cent for the first year, potentially increasing to 7 per cent in 2018.   
  • The requirement to retain 95 per cent permanent pasture has been shifted to the member state or regional level, with exemptions for smaller farms and those with 75 per cent permanent grassland.
  • The obligation to grow three crops now only applies to farms larger than 30 hectares.
  • Farmers can choose not to apply the greening measures and still receive the remaining 70 per cent of the new Basic Payment.

In other areas:

  • Member states are given the power to draw up their own definition of ‘active farmers’ eligible for payment, including a general negative list disqualifying some land uses.
  • The timetable for systems still based on historic payments, including Scotland and Wales, to move to area payments has been extended. In Year One, 10 per cent, rather than 40 per cent, of payments must be area based, with full ‘convergence’ potentially delayed until 2020.
  • Member States to have option of moving up to 15 per cent of payments from Pillar 1 (direct payments) to Pillar 2 to fund rural development schemes.
  • The compromise allows member states to use 10 per cent of their CAP funding ‘envelope’ to ‘re-couple’ support to production.
  • It proposes to significantly expand the use of intervention by raising trigger prices, expanding the number of products eligible and always keeping intervention open, regardless of the price.
  • The Sugar compromise extends the beet quota system until 2020, rather than 2015.

Some measures, including greening and active farmer definition, have already achieved broad consensus and are likely to be voted through broadly as they stand in the ‘compromise agreements’.

Other measures remain hugely controversial and could be hotly debate over the two-day session.

There was no agreement, for example, for a compromise on capping payments. There is therefore likely be a lengthy debate on this proposal, which is heavily oppsed by the UK, which is likely to result in the inclusion of some kind of cap on payments to large farmers.

There will also be fierce debate over moves to allow member states to re-couple payments and to bolster intervention, both measures strongly opposed by the EU.

Another controversial issue on the table will be the question of ‘double funding’ and whether farmers can be paid twice, under both Pillars One and Two, for the same environmental work,

Whatever the outcome of the Agriculture Committee vote on Wednesday and Thursday (January 23 and 24), the full EU Parliament will not finally sign off its position until March.

This will also be conditional on the EU and CAP budgets having been agreed by EU heads of state by then. If all goes according to plan, Parliament negotiators will then enter talks, with the EU Council of Ministers, chaired by the Irish presidency of the EU with the intention of reaching a final agreement on a new CAP by the end of June.

Scottish SNP MEP Alyn Smith, a member of the Agriculture Committee, said he vote will set the broad shape of CAP up to 2020.

“The vote is a crucial stage in creating the new CAP, as it will essentially be the position of the European Parliament going into negotiations with the Member State governments in the Council,” he said.

Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon warned that French-led moves on the CAP marketing regulations ‘risk taking us back to the bad old days of widespread intervention buying and food mountains’.

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: ““In particular we are supporting measures to change the Commission’s greening proposals which, as they stand, would add huge administrative complexity and create a sizeable dent in our productive capacity.

“We are also working with MEPs to limit Defra’s ambition to unilaterally cut farm payments by up to 20 per cent and to make sure there is an acceptable transition period to allow farmers sufficient time to adjust to the move away from the historical payment model.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • For compromise read complexity and lack of direction - English farmers progressed to an area based payment system - MEP's seek to maintain the historic payment system. The NFU Deputy President defends a long transitional period, seeking to maintain the internal UK difference when more than 10 years ago those that kept historical payment were told by the NFU the other UK regions would be going area based at the end of the last refrom period.

    There is never any sense of what this reform should acheive and how it will be judged. The Lisbon Treaty has exacerbated the whole problem of clear leadership, decision making and working out who is responsible for what.

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