The publication of the Commission’s legislative package for CAP reform is merely the starting gun for the EU’s legislative procedure to debate the regulations before they can take effect. The regulations now enter the co-decision procedure involving the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament (EP).
In an article this week in the Irish farming press, Mairead McGuinness set out the timeline as seen from the Parliament’s perspective. Mairead McGuiness is the EPP Group shadow rapporteur for the direct payments report contained within the legislative package, and thus centrally involved in formulating the EP’s position.
According to McGuinness, the current timeline envisages that draft reports will be prepared for consideration by the Agriculture Committee by April next, with a vote in Committee taking place in September on the changes proposed by MEPs.
However, she warns that given the complexity of the reforms proposed this timetable is by no means certain and that divergent views may delay the work programme.
In parallel with the work in the Parliament, the 27 EU agriculture ministers will also be working towards a common position on each of the dossiers. Technically, the legislative procedure allows the institutions, with the assistance of the Commission, three attempts (first reading, second reading and third reading or conciliation) to get agreement on the proposals. McGuinness states that at this early stage the objective is to get agreement at first reading stage, to ensure that the reforms can come into effect by 1 January 2014.
The hard bargaining between the Council and the Parliament would need to begin in autumn 2012 to meet this deadline. She notes:
Already, there are rumblings that the timetable is too tight and that if agreement is not reached at first reading, then the current regime may need to be rolled over for 2014.
The process involved is known as trilogue (trialogue in French). According to the European Commission’s glossary on co-decision, trilogue are informal tripartite meetings attended by representatives of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. As a general rule, they involve the rapporteur (accompanied where necessary by shadow rapporteurs from other political groups), the chairperson of COREPER I or the relevant Council working party assisted by the General Secretariat of the Council and representatives of the Commission (usually the expert in charge of the dossier and his or her direct superior assisted by the Commission’s Secretariat-General and Legal Service).
The purpose of these contacts is to get agreement on a package of amendments acceptable to the Council and the Parliament. Any agreement in trilogues is informal and “ad referendum” and will have to be approved by the formal procedures applicable within each of the three institutions.
If agreement between the Parliament and Council is not reached in the first round of negotiations, dossiers go to a second reading (following a vote in the Parliament on the reports). Unlike the first reading, second reading is subject to strict time limits. Within three months (or four if an extension has been agreed) of the announcement of the Council’s common position, the Parliament must approve, reject or amend it at second reading.
Approval of the common position without amendment requires the support of a simple majority of the MEPs voting. However, amendments or rejection of the common position require the support of an absolute majority (i.e., at least 369 votes in favour out of a possible 736).
If the Commission is opposed to any amendment tabled by the Parliament, the Council would have to act unanimously to accept the amendment.
Because of the short time frames involved in the second and third readings, McGuinness’ view is that all efforts will be made to avoid moving to the second stage. The logic is simple. By keeping the ball in the air during the first stage, the time schedule is open-ended and both parties have the freedom of manoeuvre to engage in consultations, consider alternatives and try to seek agreement.
But once the Council’s common position is announced, then the clock starts ticking and agreement must be reached within strict time limits, which would put enormous pressure on the slow-moving institutions. In the absence of agreement, then the Commission proposals to alter the regulations would fall.
The next steps are a special meeting in Strasbourg next week between members of the Ciolos cabinet and the EP’s agriculture committee and then, in November, the 27 farm ministers will attend the Parliament for an exchange of views with the Agriculture Committee.
Amy timeline is of course dependent on the parallel negotiations underway on the EU’s multi-annual financial framework. Any delay in agreeing the EU’s budget over the 2014-2020 period would mean a corresponding delay in agreeing the CAP regulations, as it is hard to envisage agreement on the CAP if countries are not clear on the overall budget envelopes for Pillar 1 and Pillar 2.