High stakes as Ireland embraces CAP reform challenge

IRELAND’S Agriculture Minister has warned that failure to broker a deal on the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) within the next six months could result in a long-term policy vacuum for EU farming.

Ireland assumed the six-month rotating EU presidency on January 1 with a stated objective of concluding the CAP deal by the end of June.

Irish Farming Minister Simon Coveney, who will chair key CAP negotiations between EU Ministers, said the stakes were high.

“If we don’t get a deal, we won’t have done our job properly as a collective in terms of the institutions of the EU,” he told the ‘vieuws’, the EU policy broadcaster.

“If we don’t find a way of getting the CAP reform process over in the first six months of this year we find some real stumbling block in terms of getting the job done at all.”

Lithuania and then Greece will follow Ireland at the helm of the of EU, while Mr Coveney cited German and Austrian elections in September, EU Parliament elections and then ‘potentially new EU Commissioners’ as factors that could all delay a deal after June 2013.

“So a lot of people are saying this needs to be done within the Irish presidency in order to put a new CAP in place on schedule,” he said.

Most observers believe a June deal is achievable. But for this to happen, the EU and CAP budgets will need to be agreed in February or March, while the European Council of Ministers and the EU Parliament will need to finalise their own positions soon after and then negotiate an agreement between them.

Mr Coveney said the indications are that ‘good progress is being made’ but acknowledged that the Irish faced a ‘real political challenge’. “We have never had 27 countries before and we have never had Parliament as an equal partner in the process before,” he said.

He said the Irish presidency would continue to argue that the CAP is a ‘hugely valuable policy for the EU’ and that any cuts should be ‘minimised’, although he accepted that a compromise on the budget would be necessary to get a deal.

If a deal is brokered by June, the new CAP regime will come into place in January 2015, not 2014 as originally intended, giving farmers and paying agencies time to prepare, he added.

While CAP discussions are likely to dominate the Irish presidency agenda, it will also preside over the budget discussion and reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Mr Coveney said Ireland had a good record in its previous stints in the role and was prepared to put a ‘major effort’ into securing a CAP deal. “I am really looking forward to it. I am energised by it,” he said.

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