The Czech Minister for Agriculture has issued a press release summarising the discussion at the informal agricultural council in Brno today. The subject was the future shape of a simplified system of direct payments and a more even distribution that would result in a fairer competitive environment on the single market. Even allowing for translation issues and the usual blandness of official press releases, this is a particularly opaque example of the genre.
According to the release, the Ministers brought agreement on the issue of the importance of direct payments as well as creation of a new Common Agricultural Policy after 2013. The Ministers further committed to address the issue of unequal levels of payments to EU Member States. The reference to a new Common Agricultural Policy after 2013 creates interesting possibilities if indeed this is what is meant.
Some hints are given elsewhere in the press release which suggest that the level of ambition of the Ministers for a new policy might be rather limited. Reform is placed in the context of increasing the efficiency of the Common Agricultural Policy and the search for a model of direct payments that would be easy, sufficiently flexible and above all defendable before the public.
The Ministers observed that in the future direct payments should be considered in the context of market instruments and funds allocated to rural development and they should complement these instruments appropriately, which leaves one wondering what exactly that means.
Not everyone was in agreement on the future direction. The press release carefully notes that “a number of delegates” wanted to shift the direction of direct payments to react appropriately to the growing demand of EU citizens for public goods, such as creation and management of the landscape, protection of land and water management.
The Ministers however were in apparent agreement that the issue of the system of direct payments is a very complex one. Searching for opportunities for increasing its efficiency, while taking into consideration the specific needs of several sectors, would represent a significant contribution toward simplification and increased effectiveness of the whole Common Agricultural Policy.
In the end, though, the Ministers faced up to their responsibilities to farmers and the wider public. “The Ministers confirmed the obligation to examine in great detail the opportunities for development of the system of direct payments and assess the varied levels of direct payments in the EU Member States after 2013, therefore the priority of the Presidency has been accomplished,” concluded Minister Šebesta.