Thursday, March 28, 2013

Further cuts in direct payments?

CAP direct payments look set to be cut back even further than the recent level agreed by EU governments, it emerged this week, as the budget needs exceed the available funds. Agra Europe reports that the spending gap is due to the 2014-2020 funding cuts agreed by EU leaders in February, along with the need to fund a new 'Crisis Reserve' for emergency market measures under Pillar One and also the final stage of subsidy phasing-in for 'new' member states.

This is likely to lead to the first instance of the ‘financial discipline’ mechanism kicking in since its inception in 2003, as the European Parliament is treaty-bound not to accept a budget deficit. What happens next is somewhat uncharted territory. However, hard pressed farmers are likely to react angrily.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

CAP negotiations overview

My views on the current state of the CAP negotiations can be found here: CAP reform

Not sure I agree with the headline, as I think there is still a long way to go in terms of getting a more functional CAP, although it is the case that I am in favour of more discretion being given to member states in terms of how they implement the policy.

The likely main sticking points in the trilogue negotiations are discussed in this video: Trilogue

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.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Parliament has its say

The European Parliament has had its say on the CAP reform process and, as predicted by Agra Europe last week, has largely backed the amendments proposed by its agriculture committee (ComAgri). The majority of MEPs backed the four ComAgri positions on direct payments, rural development, financing and market measures as the momentum towards a final agreement, potentially within the timeframe of the current Irish Presidency, gathers pace.

However, some hurdles remain. The Parliament vote largely proved that there is still work to be done before a deal that satisfies all member states can be reached. Parliament did back a number of key aspects of the Commission proposals such as the ‘capping’ of Pillar One payments as well as its plans on ‘active farmers’. 'Capping' would have implications for UK farmers in particular, a number of whom operate on a large scale.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Key vote in European Parliament on CAP

Next week, the European Parliament will get to vote on CAP reform and the compromises agreed by its agriculture committee (ComAgri) back in January. It would seem to be the opinion of the majority within European agricultural circles that some form of consensus will need to be found at the vote if the CAP is to be reformed in time for 2014, reports Agra Europe.

But what are the chances of an agreement being reached? There are still a number of hurdles to be overcome if a deal between member states is to be reached. The biggest sticking points appear to be over the ‘greening’ of the CAP and what this should constitute, the capping of direct payments, the speed at which the EU should oversee the convergence of Pillar One payments between member states and the scope of coupled aid.

ComAgri chairman Paolo De Castro says next week’s plenary will provide MEPs with the opportunity to ‘fix’ the problems with the CAP reform process. He conceded that his committee may have made some 'mistakes' when adopting its position earlier this year but the vote will provide the opportunity to write these wrongs. Meanwhile, other MEPs, such as German European People's Party member Elisabeth Jeggle have told Agra Europe that many of her colleagues will side with the ComAgri compromises next week.

10 per cent real cut in CAP budget

It looks as if the outcome of the EU budget negotiations might be a 10 per cent cut in real terms in pillar one for UK farmers and a 22 per cent cut in pillar two: Budget Outcome

A similar estimate of a 9 per cent in CAP expenditure in real terms, with an even bigger cut in rural development expenditure, is made by Oliver Lee of Andersons' Farm Business Consultants: Extent of cuts

It is interesting that he notes that this would bring CAP expenditure down to 39 per cent of the multi-annual financial framework, bringing it below 40 per cent for the first time. Given that it was over 70 per cent in the 1980s, this does show that incremental change can make a difference. But it is still questionable whether anyone starting with a blank sheet of paper would want to spend over a third of the EU budget on the CAP.