Are we really moving forward?

The debate on the future of the CAP has recently moved on with two important steps – the European Parliament plenary vote and the European Council agreement. Just to take up the story, the European Parliament Plenary voted in Strasbourg on 13 March on the over 330 amendments COMAGRI made this year to the European Commission’s official communication on the CP reform in October 2011. This was the first time in history when the Parliament could use her co-decision powers, affecting European Council decisions. This all happened, of course, after the deal reached on long-term budget on February 8, the consequences of which are well summarised in the interview with Paolo de Castro, Chair of COMAGRI at the European Parliament (see the video made by Vi(eu)ws here).
The Plenary vote mainly favoured the Commission’s original ideas against the various amendments. Consequently, Dacian Ciolos, the European commissioner for agriculture, welcomed this fact and said that it was an important step in the CAP reform process (see full reaction here). Agriculture committee chairman Paolo De Castro also said that “the vote in plenary confirms basically what was agreed in the agriculture committee”. Green groups welcomed the EP departure from the Committee’s position and Copa-Cogeca also welcomed the vote, saying it was a “good basis to work on”. On the surface, everything is going in the right direction it seems. But let’s look at the facts.
One of the most contentious issues at stake was whether to allow farmers to be paid twice for doing the same thing for the environment, known as “double funding” – this was eventually rejected in Strasbourg but previously accepted by COMAGRI. The plenary also rejected a proposal for member states to be allowed to use “equivalent measures” or become “green by definition” to meet the greening requirements instead of the original three requirements outlined by the Commission. Moreover, MEP’s decided to allocate an initial 3% of farm area to ecological focus and even if it could rise to 5% in January 2016, this is a significant weakening of the 7% proposed by the Commission. However, actual requirements under the individual green measures have been weakened significantly and the whole greening idea seems to become voluntary as penalty from non-compliance with greening are separated from the basic payment.
It was also agreed in Strasbourg that direct payments could be capped at €300,000 per farm and decided that no country’s farmers should receive less than 65 percent of the EU average. Parliament also voted in favour of publishing the names of all recipients of EU money and agreed on creating  a list of land-owners, including airports and sports clubs, to be automatically excluded from receiving subsidies – seems something like a second-best option for defining active farmers. The Parliament voted to extend sugar quotas until 2020 rather than 2015, when they are set to expire. They also voted to allow tobacco farmers to receive subsidies, and for farm producer organisations to extend their rules to bind non-members.
Regarding rural development, the plenary supported the proposal from COMAGRI that 25 per cent of Pillar 2 funds should be earmarked for environment and climate commitments and agreed that 15 per cent of Pillar 1 funds can be transferred to Pillar 2 on condition that it is co-financed by Member States. The inclusion of the risk management toolkit also got green light. A good overview of the Plenary vote can be seen in a video made by Vi(eu)ws here.
A week after the Plenary vote at the European Parliament, the European Council reached a general agreement on the CAP reform on 19 March (see the text here). In general, they agreed on their previous positions made in 2012. Going into detail, the Council agreed on providing increased flexibility for the basic payment scheme in allowing member states to move towards partial rather than full convergence by 2019. The extension of the SAPS system for new members until 2020 also seems to be allowed with the option to grant transitional national aid for them. Regarding greening, the Council calls for adjusting and clarifying the scope of “equivalent measures”, making application of crop diversification progressive, adjusting minimum ratios of permanent grassland, allowing EFA to start from 5% and allowing for 50% of EFA requirements to be applied at regional or collective levels. The Council also agreed on the introduction of capping and flexibility between pillars and maintained the voluntary coupled support system.
Regarding the single CMO, Council foresees sugar quotas to be extended until 2016/2017 marketing year, introduced specific provisions for the hop sector and new authorisation system for the regulation of vine plantings. As to rural development, “greeing payments” have been removed from the agri-environment payments, payments for areas with natural constraints seems to become degressive from 2016 and greater flexibility was provided to areas which were eligible during the current programming period.
In April, an intensive programme of thirty ‘trialogue’ meetings between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission will start with a view to reach a political agreement before the summer, possibly end June. Even if an agreement is reached by then, the new rules will not be fully implemented until the beginning of 2015 as we know. Consequently, the Commission is just about to propose a temporary regime for 2014 in the upcoming months.
It seems that all the main players of the game found the above steps “a huge step forward”. The question here is what forward means. If it is for finalising the negotiations, I agree, though if it means creating an efficient, fair and sustainable agricultural policy, I have serious doubts about we are going forward.

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