When the CAP budget pendulum finally stopped swinging

In the early hours of Tuesday 21 July 2020, around 5.30 am, after four days and nights of negotiations, European Council leaders reached agreement on both the Next Generation EU recovery instrument and the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027. Reaching unanimous agreement among 27 leaders who entered the negotiations with widely different positions was an astounding political achievement. And although the inevitable compromises were accompanied by expressions of regret, it is extraordinary that every leader has expressed satisfaction with the final outcome.

There are many aspects of the European Council conclusions that warrant analysis: the agreement that the EU for the first time can issue debt to fund a stimulus package to address the catastrophic economic fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic; the future links between EU financial transfers to countries and the rule of law; the framework set out for additional own resources in the coming years; the continued relevance of budget rebates: and the extent to which the final outcome succeeded in ‘modernising’ the budget to reflect the EU’s new priorities.

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Coronavirus uncertainty as CAP decisions are postponed

There is increasing focus on how the coronavirus pandemic is likely to affect agricultural markets, food supply chains and farm incomes (for example, the series of IFPRI Resources and Analyses on COVID-19). Panic buying of long-life staples – as well as toilet roll, of course – led to temporary shortages on supermarket shelves but supplies were very quickly replenished.

In the medium-term, there are concerns that labour shortages, logistical difficulties in transporting goods across borders and falling export demand have the potential to cause disruption. The various actors in the European food chain issued a statement on 19 March calling attention to likely operational difficulties and asking the Commission to ensure that free movement of goods within the single market can continue, including through managing ‘green lanes’ at borders, to allow the food chain to function effectively.

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President Michel’s solution to the MFF conundrum

In my previous post I discussed the challenges facing European Council President Charles Michel as he took over responsibility from the Finnish Presidency to prepare the draft conclusions on the Multi-annual Financial Framework for the coming meeting of the European Council on 20 February next.

The Finnish Presidency proposal had been attacked on all sides as unsatisfactory. Yet, in that previous post, I speculated that Mr Michel was unlikely to hear anything very different to what the Finnish Presidency had heard when charged with forwarding the ‘negotiating box with figures’ to the December 2019 meeting of the European Council.

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Climate mainstreaming the CAP in the EU budget: fact or fiction

Climate mainstreaming of the EU budget was introduced in the Commission’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) proposal for the period 2014-2020 which first put forward the idea that “the optimal achievement of objectives in some policy areas – including climate action, environment, consumer policy, health and fundamental rights – depends on the mainstreaming of priorities into a range of instruments in other policy areas” (COM(2011)500). The Commission advocated in particular that the EU budget could play an important role in catalysing the specific investments needed to meet the EU’s climate targets and to ensure climate resilience.

The policy fiche on climate action in the Annex to the 2011 MFF proposal included the idea that the proportion of EU budget spending contributing to the EU’s transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society should be increased to at least 20%, subject to impact assessment evidence.

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What explains the differential cuts in CAP P1 and P2 spending in the Commission’s MFF proposal?

As I discussed in this post, the Finnish Presidency has been tasked with presenting a first draft of the MFF ‘negotiating box’ with numbers prior to the next European Council meeting 12-13 December 2019. This will be no mean feat given the wide differences of opinion between the ‘frugal five’ Member States – Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden – that want overall a smaller budget than what the Commission has proposed, and other Member States that want to reverse some of the Commission’s cuts in cohesion and agricultural spending (Politico’s Lily Bayer goes through the different alliances in this article published today).

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MFF discussions pushing small increase in CAP budget compared to Commission proposal

The European Council leaders at their meeting on 17-18 October 2019 failed to make progress in advancing discussions on the next Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) due to start on 1 January 2021. The Council’s conclusions noted that: “Further to a presentation by the Presidency, the European Council exchanged views on key issues of the next Multiannual Financial Framework such as the overall level, the volumes of the main policy areas, the financing, including revenues and corrections, as well as the conditionalities and incentives. In the light of this discussion, it calls on the Presidency to submit a Negotiating Box with figures ahead of the European Council in December 2019”.

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Member State CAP allocations and progress on the MFF

The Commission’s presentation of its CAP legislative proposals in June 2018 includes Annexes setting out the Member State allocations both for Pillar 1 direct payments (Annex IV of the draft CAP Strategic Plan Regulation) and Pillar 2 rural development (Annex IX of the same draft Regulation). In its draft legislative proposals for the 2013 CAP reform, the Commission had also included an Annex setting out the Pillar 1 Member State allocations (based on the external convergence formula that it had put forward in its MFF proposal a couple of months previously).

But this was not the case for Pillar 2 allocations.

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CAP spending in the next MFF

Last week, the European Parliament secretariat (Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies) presented a briefing authored by Albert Massot and Francois Negre to the AGRI Committee comparing the Commission’s CAP legislative proposals for the period after 2020 with the current regulations. It consists of two documents: a relatively short contextual statement, and an annex containing six ‘Dashboards’ which in a two-column format set out in specific detail how the CAP reform package (2021-2027) proposed by the Commission on 1st June 2018 compares with the current CAP (2014-2020) regulations, topic by topic. It makes a very useful contribution in structuring the debate around the Commission’s CAP proposals.

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France’s puzzling interest in increasing the CAP budget

The Commission’s CAP legislative proposals which were published on 1 June 2018 attracted some immediate reactions from different groups of stakeholders setting out their positions. The proposals are far-reaching and complex. Together with the impact assessment, they amount to 662 pages of text. They require time and careful analysis to fully understand. In the coming weeks, I hope to examine some of the key elements one at a time.

I begin with the budgetary allocations by Member States which are included as Annexes to the draft CAP Strategic Plans regulation. This combines the current direct payments and rural development regulations into one.

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Co-financing CAP Pillar 1 payments

After a couple of Brexit posts, it is time to return to the debate on the future of the CAP and its financing. Early last month, I wrote a post making the case for co-financing CAP Pillar 1 payments in the forthcoming MFF proposal from the Commission. I have since fine-tuned the arguments and the result has appeared as a policy brief published by the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies.

From the summary:

The idea of national co-financing of the EU’s income support to farmers was introduced into the debate on the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) in June 2017 in the Commission Reflection Paper on the Future of EU Finances.

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