Friday, May 17, 2013

CAP reform deal not yet sewn up

This week’s Farm Council meeting highlighted more of the divisions that remain on the CAP reform process than many observers, not least the EU Farm Commissioner and Irish Presidency, would have liked, reports Agra Europe. This meeting was significant in that it was the last opportunity for an agreement between EU agriculture ministers prior to what many are billing as the ‘final showdown’ talks at the Luxembourg Farm Council on June 24-25.

The three big points of discussion were over the nature and scope of the new support systems for ‘young’ and ‘small’ farmers under the next CAP, as well as whether or not an ‘active farmer’ provision – aimed at excluding ‘undeserving’ recipients from receiving subsidies through an EU-wide ‘negative’ list that countries could add to – should be mandatory across member states.

The issue of whether young farmers should be given a 'leg up' has proved controversial for the UK. As for undeserving recipients, subsidy transfer arrangements represent a second best solution offering reallocation in an inherently unsatisfactory system in my view. Interestingly, despite the Presidency testing the water for potential compromise agreements on these issues, many governments were steadfast in their opposition in making the first two schemes compulsory to top-up direct payments, while there was also much disagreement over the third provision.

Simon Coveney, the Irish agriculture minister chairing the member state government talks, came away from the Council stating that he was 'reasonably positive' that compromises on the three proposals can be reached with MEPs and the Commission by the end of next month. Commissioner Dacian Ciolos was also confident of a political agreement but at the same time he reiterated his frustration at the reluctance of several ministers to accept a 'common' and compulsory approach for the targeted schemes.

UK farm minister Owen Paterson, who is engaged in his own battle to defend the Defra budget, also said he was optimistic of a deal this week, but there have been whispers that an agreement may not be as cut and dry as is hoped, with measures such as ‘greening’ likely to be major stumbling blocks. Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon even suggested that the Irish Presidency may be given additional time to try and get a deal in July.

Although Lithuania will have taken over the EU Presidency for the first time in their history by that time of year, the view is that the Irish will be best-placed to secure an actual CAP reform agreement due to being relatively more experienced in such matters.

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