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Common Agrícultural Policy

21 November 2013
Europolitics
 

After three years of tough negotiations in which the European Parliament for the first time in the EU's history was put on an equal footing with the Council and the Commission, MEPs have approved the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform package for the years 2014-2020. They made clear, however, that the agreement reached through intensive three-way talks cannot be called a “perfect” deal but rather a “reasonable” compromise.

During a debate preceding the vote, on 20 November, a wide spectrum of opinions, including extreme views for and against, were expressed across all political groups. The majority of MEPs voted, however, in favour of the political compromise the EP had reached with the Council and the Commission in June (main political agreement) and September (agreement on the EU budget-related issues), moving the CAP reform a step closer to conclusion. All four draft regulations (direct payments, rural development, single CMO and horizontal regulation) were approved without amendments. MEPs also gave their nod to a compromise reached in October on a set of transitional rules for the CAP in 2014. The Council is expected to approve all five draft regulations at its next meeting in December.

“This is an important day for European farmers, but also for all EU citizens concerned about the quality of their food and the sustainability of agricultural production methods,” Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said in a statement after the vote. “The reformed CAP will be better balanced between farmers, regions and member states, with a special focus on young farmers,” he added.

CLASHING OPINIONS

It came as no surprise that the ECR Conservatives (European Conservatives and Reformists), the Eurosceptics (Europe of Freedom and Democracy, EFD) and the Communists (European United Left-Nordic Green Left, GUE-NGL) rejected the reform in its entirety. The latter group requested a roll-call vote on its amendments to the CAP reform compromise (only the Communists and the Greens put forward amendments), but the demand was rejected by the EP's Conference of Presidents. Instead, a block vote on the package was held. Speaking on behalf of the ECR, James Nicholson (UK) criticised the reform for falling short of farmers' expectations, especially in the area of rural development and horizontal issues. He also attacked it for being too complicated and not balanced in terms of benefits for the farmers and the costs they would need to bear.

The major political groups, including the Christian Democrats, the Socialists and the Liberals, signalled a number of shortcomings during the debate but their final assessment was rather positive. While welcoming more flexibility, the obligatory young farmers' scheme and easier rules for small farmers, the Liberals regretted that the greening measures were made compulsory for the farmers. They also deplored the possibility of moving funds between pillars – a mechanism that, according to George Lyon (UK), goes against the principle of fairness. The Socialists threw their weight behind Luis Capoulas Santos (Portugal) – their group colleague, who drafted the direct payments and rural development rules – in support for the reform. Addressing the plenary ahead of the vote, Capoulas Santos assured MEPs that “for Parliament the key objectives were guaranteed”. “Agreement was reached on a greener and more legitimate CAP for the citizens and for the taxpayers,” he added. The Christian Democrats were also overall positive on the reform package. Addressing the plenary before the vote, Michel Dantin (EPP, France), rapporteur on the single CMO, regretted that the CAP budget had been cut. He argued, however, that European farmers can count on support in case of a crisis. “There is a safeguard clause for all sectors, which will allow for a rapid reaction in case of a crisis situation on the market,” Dantin said. “We also gave more means, more room for manoeuvre to actors, producers and organisations” to help them cope with market volatility, he added, noting that “stronger producer organisations must not turn into cartels but should help farmers to improve their economic situation”.

The Greens took a middle ground position. They criticised the absence of stronger pro-environment measures, in particular the too flexible greening rules and the reduction of the rural development budget, but at the same time acknowledged that the reform is a “tiny step in the right direction”. Speaking on behalf of the Greens, Martin Hausling (Germany) expressed hope that the mid-term review of the deal will provide an opportunity to “improve” it.

SPAT OVER IMPLEMENTING RULES

Parliament has joined forces with the Council in a sharp criticism of the European Commission over its draft delegated acts that are meant to set out technical details for the CAP reform's implementation. Regardless of political affiliation or nationality, MEPs deplored what they see as an attempt by the EU executive to “circumvent” the political agreement on the CAP reform by imposing new or stricter requirements on the member states and farmers in the draft delegated acts (see Europolitics 4755). Astrid Lulling (EPP, Luxembourg) went even further by accusing the Commission of abusing its powers. Her statement provoked equally strong reactions from Dacian Ciolos. In an unusually emotional response, he argued that the Commission does not intend to re-open the political debate on the CAP reform, but to “properly implement the political agreement”. To this end, he committed himself to “continue” the ongoing “very close” consultations with Parliament and Council on the matter. “The first drafts [of the delegated acts] have been discussed with Parliament and member state experts, and are now being redrafted to reflect their comments,” Ciolos explained, underlining that it was the Commission's own initiative to conduct such close consultations before the acts are adopted by the College of Commissioners.

Results of voting

Draft regulation on direct payments rules: 440 to 238, ten abstentions

Draft regulation on rural development rules: 576 to 101, 11 abstentions

Draft regulation on common market organisation: 426 to 253, eight abstentions

Draft regulation on financing, management and monitoring rules: 500 to 177, ten abstentions

Draft regulation on transitional rules for 2014: 592 to 81 14 abstentions

 

AE) AGRICULTURE: EP adopts CAP reform – Concern over delegated acts

Brussels, 20/11/2013 (Agence Europe) – In Strasbourg on Wednesday 20 November, the European Parliament adopted the four regulations reforming the common agriculture policy (CAP), as well as a regulation on the transitional measures for this CAP (see EUROPE 10950 on the transitional measures). The Council of Ministers of the EU is set to approve these texts in December.

Several MEPs expressed concern over the delegated acts presented by the Commission, which they feel could change the political agreement of June concluded between the institutions. The results of the reform of the CAP came under fire, particularly from the Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL groups, and the Eurosceptics.

The compromise on the reform (see EUROPE 10932 for details) provides, amongst other things, for a new system of direct payments: convergence of payments, not only between member states but also within them, greening of 30% of aid, an option to use a redistribution payment for the first hectares, reduction of the payment for large holdings (above 150,000) and an option for countries to set a limit of €300,000 on amounts allocated to individual farmers, additional obligatory aid for young farmers (up to 2% of the national envelope), an optional regime for small farmers (annual payment of between €500 and €1,250), optional coupled support (up to 8% of the national envelope, or up to 13% if the current level of coupled support is above 5% in an individual member state), additional payment (optional) for areas under natural constraints (up to 5% of the national envelope).

In addition, the member states will be able if they wish to transfer up to 15% of their national envelope earmarked for direct payments (first pillar) into their rural development envelope (second pillar). Member states will also be able to transfer up to 15% of their national rural development envelope into their direct payment envelope (or up to 25% for the member states which receive less than 90% of the EU average the direct payments).

On rural development, the EU's co-funding rate will be up to 85% in less-favoured regions, extremely remote regions and the smaller islands of the Aegean Sea, up to 75% in the transition regions, 63% in other transition regions and 53% in other regions for most payments. Lastly, a crisis reserve will be built up every year of €400 million (2011 prices) through financial discipline. If this amount is not used for a crisis, it will be paid back to farmers the following year, in the form of direct payments.

EP clinches best possible deal

The rapporteur on the financing of the CAP, Giovanni La Via (EPP, Italy), told the plenary debate: “We have helped to improve the Commission's proposal”. We must come down hard on those who abuse resources. But we have respected the principle of proportionality (depending on the wrongdoing committed), he added.

Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos (S&D, Portugal), rapporteur on direct payments and rural development, admitted that this is not the “perfect” agreement, but the only agreement possible, and this shows the spirit of compromise which exists between the institutions. He reiterated that he feels that the EP has got most of what it wanted, which can be summed up as follows: a greener, fairer CAP which is more equitable between countries and farmers, and a simple and less bureaucratic CAP. The letter and the spirit of this agreement must not be jeopardised by application standards. “We have had some slightly worrying news over the delegated acts”, he said, a remark intended for the commissioner.

“This is the first time that the Parliament has been fully involved in preparing this political act”, pointed out Michel Dantin (EPP, France), rapporteur on market measures. He stated that this new CAP is first of all marked – “this is to be regretted, it was a decision of the heads of state and government” – by a cut in the budget. The agreement makes it possible to give the players, producers and sectors more resources and room for manoeuvre. The safety net will take account of developments not just in production costs but also, for the first time, in profit margins. The safeguard clause, which has been brought in for all sectors, will make it possible to react quickly to serious disturbances on the market. Lastly, the creation of a crisis reserve, “which is unfortunately constituted by taking funds from the first pillar”, will allow us to take action. On milk, he called on the commissioner to make new proposals, “as we do not believe that the current tools are enough to really cope with the end of the quota regime” in 2017. On wine, the planting authorisation system set in place to run until 2030 “will improve monitoring of demand, but will also help to keep a balance between supply and demand”. On export refunds, we have reached an agreement which allows us to keep this tool in the event of crisis.

 

“The EP has proven its worth as a co-decision maker”, said Paolo de Castro (S&D, Italy), the chair of the agriculture committee of the EP. Amongst other things, he welcomed the fact that the EP had succeeded in getting the Council to negotiate subjects linked to the agreement of the European Council (February) on the multi-annual financial framework 2014-2020. “This is a success for the EP which could constitute a precedent: no longer allowing the Council to withdraw a number of subjects from the ordinary procedure. It is a question of democratic legitimacy and adherence to the treaties”, he stressed.

“This final reform meets the expectations of the agriculture sector, the rural community and the European citizens”, said European Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Ciolos. He stressed that direct payments would be rebalanced and better targeted and that the European agricultural sector would set concrete measures in place to preserve biodiversity, soil quality, water quality and fight climate change (thanks to greening). He also highlighted a “new orientation for the organisation of the markets” (market management will no longer be orientated towards Brussels, to administrative decisions made in Brussels, “but towards the farmers”). The commissioner went on to stress that the toolbox for this market management will be reinforced. Additionally, the position of the farmers within the food chain will be strengthened through producer organisations and inter-professional organisations. He called on farmers to seize the new tools available to them, particularly in sectors such as cereals, beef meat, olive oil and dairy and, of course, wine. The new common market organisation includes an emergency clause. “We must define more specifically how we will use this clause in the event of a serious crisis”, said the Commissioner (in reference to the dairy sector, in particular).

Problem of delegated acts

Paolo De Castro, and many others, called for the delegated acts to respect the political agreement on the reform. The EP will play its role seriously and with determination, he stated.

In recent months, the Commission has done everything in its power to present the delegated acts as quickly as possible. A preliminary version has been discussed. “I have listened to the calls for modifications which have been made on the number of points”, said the commissioner. The European Parliament will also be consulted on this process, to clarify points which appear to have raised doubts in relation to the political agreement. The spirit of these delegated acts is certainly not to reopen political discussions, but rather fully to apply the compromise, with a number of important details, the commissioner explained.

At the end of the debate, Ciolos gave the MEPs his word that, even though the procedure does not provide for it, he is prepared to hold a specific meeting for the EP to be attended by members of the agriculture committee of the EP, to discuss concerns over adherence to the agreement on the reform. “We have no intention of exceeding the scope of the political agreement”, he said. However, the Commission has to clarify a number of things; that is its job.

George Lyon (ADLE, UK) mainly criticised the fact that “inefficient” mechanisms of the past on the market measures will be kept in place. His group voted against the regulation on the single common market organisation.

UK MEP James Nicholson (European Conservatives and Reformists) said that, in his view, the package does not respond to the main problems facing farmers: they must produce more, with less land, less water, less fertiliser and less pesticide. Yet the agreement focuses on greening. This is a good thing, but this must not translate into a red-tape overload for farmers, he observed.

Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA, Germany) said that the greening proposed is a “little lick of green paint, but not a real greening”. 5% of surface area without chemicals or pesticides is not enough, in his view. He also criticised the fact that 70% of farmers will be able to continue to grow just one crop. He went on to lament the lack of ambition on the upper limit on aid for large enterprises, which was rejected by Germany and the United Kingdom. “Small holdings are the future of agriculture, not the massive structures which destroy jobs”, he said. José Bové (Greens/EFA, France) hit out against the voting procedure: wanting to vote en masse, without first taking the amendments on board, runs “counter to the spirit of this Parliament”.

Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE/NGL, France) argued that the reform does not make it possible to respond to the challenges of the moment (improving living standards for small and medium-sized farmers): “It is the law of the jungle of the global market which will continue to dictate agricultural prices to production, because this CAP still refuses to set base prices for small holdings”. It provides only a meagre safety net, he added.

John Stuart Agnew (EFD, UK) said, in reference to the delegated acts, which require aid to be paid to the sheep sector only for females, that it was a bit much to ask farmers to go and look underneath their sheep to check whether they were male or female. “Watch out for the unpleasant smells”, he warned dryly. (LC/transl.fl)