MEPs pave the way for 'recoupling' and a return to intervention

MEPS have controversially agreed to allow the recoupling of CAP payments to production and have supported moves to beef up intervention to bolster the market for farm goods.

They have also voted to ease the burden of CAP ‘greening’ on farmers and have reintroduced the policy of capping the highest payments into the reform process.

The European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee laid out Parliament’s position on the reform process during votes on Wednesday on ‘compromises’ to the 8,000 amendments MEPs put forward to the European Commission’s original CAP reform package, published in October 2011.

Scottish MEP George Lyon said the vote risked taking the policy ‘backwards’ to the days of ‘wide scale intervention buying and bulging food stores’.

On the ‘greening’ of Pillar One:

  • MEPs voted to allow farmers in agri-environment schemes, which 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
  • Farms with 75 per cent of their farm as permanent pasture or used for the production of grass, and where the remaining eligible land does not exceed 50 hectares will automatically qualify fior 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 of permanent pasture can apply at national or regional level, not to individual farms
  • Where arable land is over 30 hectares, the farmer must cultivate three crops but where it covers between 10 and 30 hectares, two crops are required.
  • If a farmer chose not to comply with the greening requirements, they will lose only the 30 per cent greening payment, not the full payment

In other measures:

  • MEPs reintroduced a proposal to cap the highest payments at €300,000 (£252,150)
  • They allowed member states the flexibility to transfer up to 15 per cent of their CAP funding ‘envelope’ from Pillar One to Pillar Two (with a requirement for member states to co-finance the transfer)and to move up to 10 per cent the other way
  • Member states will be allowed to use 15 per cent of their envelope to ‘re-couple’ support to production
  • 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 to move from historic to area payments, affecting Scotland and Wales, has been eased, with just 10 per cent area payment needed in year one and some flexibility still in the requirement to move to 100 per cent area payments permitted in 2019
  • Measures to increase the use of intervention, such as raising trigger prices, expanding the number of products eligible and always keeping intervention open, are included
  • The sugar beet quota system is extended until 2020, rather than being removed in 2015
  • MEPs voted for 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.

The full EU Parliament will not finally sign off its position until March.

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.

Committee chair Paolo De Castro said: “This is the moment of truth. The Agriculture Committee has said today how the new CAP should look. It should be more efficient, greener and able to respond to the enormous challenges ahead of us. Such ambitious goals entails higher costs. So any further cuts to the CAP budget are simply inacceptable.”

He also called on EU leaders to agree on their proposal for the EU’s long-term budget, which he said was ‘essential to design the final shape of the future CAP’, as soon as possible.

Mr Lyon MEP said he was ‘disappointed by decisions taken by the votes today backing more market regulation’.

“This runs the risk of taking us back to the bad old days of wide scale use of automatic intervention buying and potentially mountains of unwanted food lying in stores,” he said.

Mr Lyon said as, one-third of MEPs voted against the final report, there will be an opportunity to try and reverse some of these decisions.

Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith said the greening proposals were ‘looking far more workable than those originally proposed by the Commission’.

An NFU spokesman in Brussels said: “We still need to process the detail but on the surface we can be pleased that our work with MEPs has helped knock the Commission’s greening proposals into slightly better shape. But of course there are still some big concerns, not least on the increased flexibility to move payments between pillars. We will continue to lobby MEPs on all the big issues ahead of their full vote expected in March.”

  • To view our web debate about CAP reform click here

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