A novel feature of the current round of CAP reform negotiations is that it explicitly aims to redistribute budget resources between member states. One of the reasons for the success of the 2003 Fischler Mid-Term Review and the 2008 Fischer Boel Health Check was that they left the pre-existing distribution of payments across member states more or less intact.
The demand from the new member states for greater convergence in the value of the direct payment per entitlement (or eligible hectare) in the current CAP negotiations means that redistribution is now firmly on the reform agenda. But it also makes reaching agreement much more difficult.
This is illustrated in a paper by Kyosti Arovuori from the Finnish Pellervo Economic Research PTT institute and and Jyrki Niemi from MTT Agrifood Research Finland at the Annual IFAMA World Symposium in Frankfurt last June. They examine a set of potential redistribution criteria identified in the Commission’s November 2010 Communication for their ‘political feasibility’, and conclude that none would pass the voting procedures of the European Council.
Conclusions of the Finnish research
The basic assumption of the Finnish paper is that countries vote according to whether they are winners or losers in terms of their ‘national envelopes’ under Pillar 1 of the CAP. Given that payments into the EU budget are determined by an objective formula, this is equivalent to saying that member states’ voting behaviour is determined by how the proposal affects their ‘net balances’ with respect to the EU CAP budget.
Although a simplistic assumption, it is a plausible one and has a good amount of empirical support. The eurozone economic crisis and problems with fiscal deficits generally in the EU have diminished the likelihood of ‘altruistic’ behaviour such as arguably influenced the German position in budget negotiations in the past.
The researchers note that the policy options they examine would increase significantly the negative net balances in all three countries with the highest national contributions already under the current CAP (DE, FR, IT) while increasing further the net receipts of those countries which are already big net recipients from the EU budget (RO, PO, HU).
Whether these net recipients could further improve their relative position depends on whether they can put together sufficient votes to win a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers.
What the Finnish researchers do is to count the votes of countries which are winners and of those that are losers under each redistribution scenario and compare the outcome with the minimum number of votes required to pass a proposal (255 votes out of 345 under the current weighted majority voting rule plus a majority of (at least 14) countries. In principle, a member state can also ask to check that a qualified majority represents states with at least 62% of the population, but this possibility has never been used given that a qualified majority requires 74% of the weighted votes in the Council.
They conclude that any policy with significant redistributive effects across the member states is not likely to gain a qualified majority in the Council.
There are a number of possible extensions to this approach. One is that it neglects the possibility that Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 national envelopes might be negotiated simultaneously thus giving an extra degree of freedom in the negotiations (a country losing under Pillar 1 might be ‘compensated’ through the allocation rule selected for Pillar 2, and vice versa). It appears that the MTT group has made similar simulations using both Pillars, but that paper is published in Finnish.
Probably more important, the analysis ignores the impact of the Treaty of Lisbon which has given the European Parliament co-decision power in respect of agricultural policy. While the Council of Ministers has the upper hand in deciding on the overall budgets for Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 (these are set out in the Multiannual Financial Framework which the Parliament can only vote up or down but cannot amend), it has co-equal power in agreeing the direct payments regulation which will set out the national ceilings by member state.
It is still unclear how the Parliament will use its new power, but one might assume that it will be less influenced by the ‘net balances’ issue than the Council of Ministers. While Commissioner Ciolos last week in Dublin insisted that CAP reform could not be agreed until the budget negotiations were concluded, an equally cogent case can be made that the linkage runs in the other direction. It is hard to see member states signing off on a budget deal without knowing how they will be affected by a CAP reform, given the central role that the CAP will continue to play in the determination of overall budget net balances in the coming MFF period.
How does the current Commission proposal fare?
The Finnish paper was written before the publication of the Commission’s proposals for the next MFF and before its legislative proposal for CAP reform was released in October 2011. These proposals suggest a pragmatic redistribution (called the “MFF distribution key”) that provides that member states that currently have direct payments below the level of 90% of the average will close 1/3 of the gap between their current level and the 90% level, to be funded by reducing the payments to member states with above-average payments.
The impact of this proposal is shown graphically in the Figure here.
An obvious question is how this proposal would fare in the Council of Ministers, assuming that countries vote in the way that the Finnish researchers assume they will. The relevant tabulation is set out in Table 1. The answer is, at first sight, not very well. With only 162 votes, the proposal would come nowhere near gathering the required qualified majority.
Introducing some flexibility
However, the criterion used by the Finnish researchers is overly strict. If a country is just one euro worse off under the MFF proposal, then it is classed as a loser and assumed to vote against the proposal. (Note that, to control for differences in the overall size of the future Pillar 1 budget, the researchers in fact count as winners those countries whose share of Pillar 1 receipts increases and vice versa).
This criterion seems unduly mechanical. Most countries would be happy to end up with more or less their previous share, even if slightly reduced. Alternatively, we can interpret the additional flexibility as a consequence of co-decision with the European Parliament.
Figure 1 above shows that, in fact, for many countries, the difference between their current receipts and receipts under the MFF proposal is very minor (the Commission diagram compares receipts under the MFF proposal for the overall Pillar 1 envelope with actual receipts under the current Pillar 1 allocation which, in total, is slightly higher, so it even exaggerates the differences in share terms).
Thus Column 4 in Table 1 relaxes the constraint to allow for an arbitrary 5% franchise. That is, a country would be prepared to vote in favour of a Commission proposal provided it did not reduce its share by more than 5% below its existing share. This alters the picture dramatically, and now the Commission proposal has a comfortable qualified majority.
A new parlour game?
The Commission has been criticised, notably by disappointed new member states (most recently in the Joint Declaration by the Ministers for Agriculture and leaders of agricultural organisations in the Baltic States at the Berlin Green Week this January), for the lack of ambition in its convergence proposal. However, it may well have been aware of the arithmetic of the qualified majority voting rule and put forward a proposal which it felt was politically feasible.
Could the Commission have proposed more? Readers could make their own calculations of politically feasible redistributions – a new parlour game for these cold winter evenings.
This post was written by Alan Matthews.
Picture on home page used by permission of the European Parliament under a Creative Commons Licence.