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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Charles Michel’s MFF juggling act

During the past few weeks, the President of the European Council Charles Michel has been meeting national sherpas to sound out Member State positions regarding the Commission’s proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027. In the next few weeks he will be meeting national leaders face-to-face.

He has called a special European Council meeting which, ominously for national leaders who value their beauty sleep, is scheduled to start on 20 February but which notably has no termination date or time.  Mr Michel may plan to take a leaf out of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s playbook who famously kept the rich elite of Saudi Arabia under lock and key in a luxury hotel until they agreed to part with some of their money.

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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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The CAP and biodiversity

Two weeks ago I gave a talk at a biodiversity conference organised by Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority. The proceedings of this conference can be downloaded here. The title for my talk was ‘Could European agricultural policy do more to promote biodiversity?‘ In today’s edition of the Irish Farming Independent I have a short article which summarizes the talk. I reproduce the article below and also the presentation accompanying the talk.
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The 2013 CAP reform had three overall objectives: viable food production; sustainable management of natural resources and climate action; and balanced territorial development.
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Status update on Rural Development Programmes

DG AGRI was able to announce in this past week that it had approved a further 5 Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) for the period 2014-2020. This means that 78 of the 118 RDPs have now been adopted covering 76.6% of the envisaged funding. The state of play (as of the end of August) is shown in the graphic below. Note that one-third of RDPs still remain to be adopted at this point, even if they account for less than 25% of the envisaged expenditure.
Source: DG AGRI
Reasons for delays need to be examined

When the approval exercise is completed, we will need an investigation into the reasons for these unacceptable delays and some allocation of responsibility between possible contributing factors.
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The distribution of CAP payments by member state

The Scottish Government is currently waging a campaign for a higher share of the UK national envelopes for Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 of the CAP. It claims that Scotland is almost certain to find itself at the bottom of the EU per hectare league table in terms of both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 support by the end of the next CAP period because, as a region, it could not directly benefit from the ‘external convergence’ formula used to increase payments in those countries with currently low payments per hectare.
As part of its campaign, the Scottish Government has prepared two tables showing the levels of payment per hectare for both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 in each member state currently and on average over the 2014-2020 MFF period to bolster its case.
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The CAP budget in the MFF Part 3 – Pillar 2 rural development allocations

When the European Council agreed on the EU’s multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 in February this year, the overall allocation to the CAP’s Pillar 2 was made known but not the individual allocations to member states. Apparently, in order to secure a final agreement, each member state was told its own allocation but not that of the other countries.

It was not until May, after repeated requests from the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the rural development regulation, Luis Capoulas Santos, that the Commission communicated the individual country totals to the Parliament negotiators in the trilogue process. However, until the publication of the European Parliament secretariat’s Note European Council Conclusions on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 and the CAP these figures were not generally available.

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Correction: Rural development funds allocation

There has been much interest in the provenance of the figures on the allocation of rural development funding between member states which I discussed in this post earlier this week. In the post I said that these were figures circulated by Herman van Rompuy during the special European Council meeting to discuss the MFF on November 22-23. Having spoken with some people who were present at the Council meeting I can now confirm that Van Rompuy did not circulate these figures at that meeting. I believe the figures were prepared by well-placed sources but they are not official figures and I regret any confusion which my incorrect assignation may have caused.
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Co-financing rates in Pillar 2

The Agricultural Council meeting on 18 June held a discussion on the proposed rural development regulation in response to a Presidency questionnaire (the webcast of the Council discussion is here). One of the questions posed by the Presidency was:

Is the proposed provision concerning increased EAFRD contribution rates relevant for meeting the objectives of the rural development policy, or should alternative operations qualify to receive a higher rate of co-financing?

According to the minutes of the Council meeting:

Co-financing rates for rural development support are part of the negotiating box for the MFF (2014- 2020). Member states spoke in general terms of the need for a simple and targeted system for financing activities to meet the EU objectives for rural development.

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Paper on CAP greening

I presented a paper at a seminar of the European Association of Agricultural Economists today which reviews the debate on greening the CAP in Pillar 1 in the light of the Commission’s original legislative proposal, the discussions in the Council summarised in the Danish Presidency’s progress report this month, and the COMAGRI rapporteurs’ reports.
The message of the paper is that the greening proposals under discussion are a missed opportunity. They serve primarily to try to justify the continuation of the existing level of Pillar 1 direct payments. The Commission’s original proposals for three simple, generalisable measures would lead to limited additional environmental benefits, and the various flexibilities proposed by the Council and COMAGRI rapporteurs would reduce the additional benefits even further.
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