With 27 member states the whole negotiating process in the Farm Council has become a lot more difficult, not that it was ever easy. Another complication is that fisheries matters are also dealt with in the Farm Council and this means that the December meeting is the scene for an inevitable battle between fisheries ministers over quotas.
The only effective way to proceed is to forge compromises outside the Council chamber through bilaterals between the Presidency/Commission and individual ministers. A lot then depends on the negotiating skill of the Presidency: the Portuguese Presidency is judged to have been a success. Slovenia is the first transition state to be in the chair and both its farm minister and its officials enjoy a good reputation.
The Health Check will have to be finalised at the end of this year under the French presidency. France will probably try to get a deal in November as it can then include some direct reference to the Health Check in its final Summit conclusions, presumably providing some form of wording that would support French ambitions in the 2009 review of the EU budget with the objective of maintaining high levels of CAP spending after 2013.
Another reason to get a deal before December is that this would leave little time for lawyers and linguists to check it before the end of the year. This could then open up the prospect of a challenge from MEPs on the grounds that they should have had co-decision power on the Health Check. Life under co-decision will be interesting once the new Lisbon Treaty enters into force (as anticipated) in January 2009.