Budget talks delay progress on CAP
Agriculture ministers from the European Union’s member states will next week (28 November) reach agreement on some of the less controversial elements of the European Commission’s plans to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). But any major decisions are on hold while discussions continue on the EU’s 2014-20 budget.
According to the latest proposal on the EU’s long-term budget, drawn up by Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, agriculture spending would be cut by €14.5 billion compared to the Commission’s proposal. Heads of state and government will discuss Van Rompuy’s plan at a summit today and tomorrow (22-23 November), but some member states want further cuts to agricultural spending.
Farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca says the Van Rompuy compromise “risks threatening food security and 40 million jobs in rural areas”.
Campaigners and farming groups have been complaining for a year that agriculture ministers have ceded control of debate on CAP reform to finance ministers. Talks on the CAP have stalled until it is known how much money will be available, but major decisions are being taken in the context of the budget talks rather than in the agriculture council.
The Commission’s proposal to set a €300,000 ceiling on subsidies to individual farmers has fallen foul of Van Rompuy’s budget compromise, which would make such a cap voluntary for member states. Dacian Ciolos, the European commissioner for agriculture, has called this idea “illogical and hypocritical”.
“The Van Rompuy paper goes against our efforts to make CAP fairer, greener and more efficient,” Ciolos said in an statement.
The cuts proposed by Van Rompuy would cause particular problems for efforts to make the CAP greener. It proposes a 5.8% cut in direct payments, but its cut in rural development funds – the CAP’s second pillar, which is focused on environmental stewardship – amounts to 9.3%. Rural development funding is already three times smaller than direct payment funding.
The Commission had proposed making 30% of direct payments conditional on fulfilling environmental criteria. But green campaigners say the proposed cuts to direct payments will result in environment ministers removing this requirement or watering it down. Environmental measures would then remain only part of a significantly weakened second pillar, leaving the revised CAP less green than it is at present, green groups claim.
“If agriculture ministers understand that the overall CAP money is decreased, they will fight even more strongly against greening measures,” said Marco Contiero of Greenpeace. “Having seen the debate in the Council, I do not think the CAP will ever become a greener policy, because of the interests that are well integrated into the decision-making process, both in the Council and in the European Parliament.”
Fish deal with Norway
Fisheries ministers will next week (29 November) be briefed by the Commission on the first round of negotiations with Norway on a bilateral fisheries agreement for 2013. They may also vote on the Commission’s proposal for an EU-Mauritania fisheries agreement, depending on the outcome of a working-group meeting scheduled for yesterday evening (21 November). If the Mauritania deal is added to the agenda, it is likely to mean that a qualified majority can be found to back the deal. Spain is strongly opposed to the Mauritania deal because its fishermen complain that it is unfair.