Friday, March 22, 2013

Parliament good for democracy but not for decision-making

The CAP is such an important part of what the EU does, not least in budgetary terms, that the European Parliament had to be made a decision-making partner if the institution is to mean anything in democratic terms. The downside is that it makes the whole process of arriving at an agreement on reform even messier and more complicated than it was before. Moreover, those most directly involved tend to represent farm interests. The end result is likely to be a reform package that is more incoherent than usual, and that is saying something.

After marathon talks in Brussels earlier this week, EU member state agriculture ministers finally came up with a CAP reform negotiating position, reports Agra Europe in what can rightly be seen as a significant step forward for the process. The Irish Presidency should be praised for its persistence in getting a deal between member states done halfway through its term in office and hopes are raised for a final deal to be set in stone before the end of June this year. 25 of the 27 states were in agreement after the meeting – Slovakia and Slovenia chose not to support it – and this is a strong mandate to take forward into trilogue talks with the Commission and Parliament.

Compromises were made on all of the major aspects of the policy including direct payments, the single CMO, Rural Development and Financing and Monitoring. However, it is apparent that the agreement will not put to bed the matter of CAP reform as many Parliament rapporteurs expressed dismay at many aspects of the Council position. The fact that the farm ministers did not rule out the possibility of ‘double funding’ for farmers 'destroys the legitimacy potential of greening,' according to the Parliament's rapporteur on direct payments post-2013, MEP Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos.

Agriculture Commissioner Ciolos meanwhile said he is 'delighted a clear consensus exists for 30% of direct payments to be linked to a more sustainable CAP'. The greening measures would be of a 'mandatory' nature under Council's stance as, penalties for non-compliance would go beyond 30 per cent of the Pillar One subsidy, he stressed. Yet Italian centre-right MEP Giovanni La Via, the Parliament's rapporteur on the 'Horizontal' Regulation, claimed losing the greening component of payments would be 'a high enough penalty' for farmers not complying with the new requirements. In other words, he wants to water it down.

Paolo De Castro, the Parliament's agriculture committee chairperson, probably summed up best the current state of affairs. 'There are some areas where the Council followed the Parliament's lead and others where we will have to negotiate intensively,' he said. The ‘intensive’ trilogue talks between the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament are provisionally due to kick off in early April with a hectic schedule of meetings between then and the end of June, when it is hoped a final agreement will have been thrashed out. What sort of agreement it will be remains to be seen, but one fears that it will be watered down.

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