Monday, November 05, 2012

Nicosia gets the thumbs down from all sides

It isn't easy being a small state and holding the presidency of the EU, especially when you have to make proposals about the future of the CAP. Cyprus has ended up being attacked from all sides for its suggestions for a way forward on the CAP budget.

The Cypriot EU Presidency’s proposal to cut EU spending by €50 billion as compared with the Commission’s original proposal in the 2014-2020 period, including a €7bn reduction to the CAP budget, has been categorically dismissed by those on both sides of the budget debate – those who want to see an increase, and those pressing for bigger cuts, reports Agra Europe.

Nicosia has suggested reducing spending on CAP direct aid payments and market measures over the seven years from the €283.05bn tabled by the Commission to a maximum of €277.40bn, a cut of just over 2%. The Presidency also suggested reducing the EU average level of direct payments per hectare by at least 0.27% a year between 2015 and 2020, which would trim the proposed overall expenditure on direct payments in 2014-2020 by 1.3%.

The EU's rural development budget - used to co-finance national programmes - would go from €91.97 to €90.82bn, a 1.3% cut, under the Presidency's revised version of the 'negotiating box' for the multiannual financial framework (MFF). My hunch is that, unfortunately, this is where the brunt of the cuts will eventually fall. It only benefits some farmers and there are transaction costs in accessing it.

France has threatened to veto any deal that will result in a cut to the budget for agriculture, with farming groups across the continent calling for nothing less drastic than a CAP budget freeze. The European Parliament, which has also called for a freezing of the CAP budget, slammed the Cyprus Presidency's plan and claimed its voice has not been heard.

The proposal 'sends out a bad signal' and 'will inevitably put in jeopardy the future of certain key policies and programmes,' according to the Parliament's lead negotiators Reimer Boege and Ivailo Kalfin.

France and Germany recently backed the European Commission’s proposals to freeze the 2014-2020 CAP budget at 2013 levels in nominal terms – a reduction in real terms - and have subsequently found support from some of the usual suspects: Spain, Italy and Ireland among others.

On the other side of the debate, the old reformist coalition of the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands are pushing for cutbacks across all areas, including the CAP. This week the UK government, again backed by Sweden, argued that the Presidency proposals for a €50bn cut to EU spending 'don't go far enough' and that the figures are 'still way too high'.

Essentially Europe is split between, on the one hand, those 10 net payers to the EU budget, such as the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, who put more into the kitty than they get out, and on the other the 17 net recipient member states who mostly want to see an increase of at least five per cent. For all the talk of solidarity, it comes down to what you pay in and what you get out.

The net payers cannot justify an increase as it runs contrary to what they see as the severe economic reality currently gripping Europe. But the net recipients argue that growth and development across the bloc will be severely hampered unless struggling countries get the additional help they need. That may be so, but giving that help to agriculture is not the best way to boost growth and employment.

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