Mixed results for MEPs’ first effort

MEPs have decided that no country’s farmers should receive less than 65% of the EU average payment (which is about €5,000 per farmer and €280 per hectare).

In negotiations starting on Apr 11, Simon Coveney will aim to reconcile this with a more flexible proposal from EU agriculture ministers, and with the European Commission’s insistence on equity in distribution of CAP support, with real convergence between member states, regions and farmers. However, both the European Parliament and ministers support flexibility for member states — in the form of a top-up payment on the first hectares, to be determined by the member states. MEPs have also allowed for a review to monitor the impact of the move towards more even land-based payments.

Playing a direct role in shaping EU farming policy for the first time ever (under powers bestowed by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty), MEPs unveiled their demands last week.

In general, they have adopted a position on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that is closer to the commission’s proposal than to terms sought by member states’ agriculture ministers.

nGreening: The parliament’s farmer-friendly Committee on Agriculture saw several measures which it had dropped reinstated by the full parliament — particularly in the “greening” which was first proposed by the commission, which forces farmers to adopt ecological measures such as crop rotation and leave more land fallow, or lose out on a third of their direct EU subsidies.

The full parliament has backed the commission’s proposal to make at least 30% of subsidies dependent on a mandatory but flexible version of “greening” environmental protection.

With a clear consensus among ministers also that 30% of direct payments will be linked to a more sustainable CAP, the principle at least of “greening” seems over the line in CAP reform.

However, the double payments for environmental activities backed by ministers is opposed by the commission and is “absolutely unacceptable”, according to the Parliament.

MEPs would allocate only an initial 3% of farmland for wildlife, rising to 5% in Jan 2016, a significant weakening of the 10% proposed by the commission.

Ministers want additional sanctions on farmers unable to comply with greening measure, over and above losing the greening component of their direct payment.

*Milk quotas: Controversially, MEPs suggest granting aid for at least three months to milk producers who voluntarily cut their production by at least 5%, when EU milk quotas are scrapped in 2015.

This is designed to ensure that the expiry of milk quotas does not lead to a serious crisis in the milk sector.

But amendments calling for prolongation of milk quotas were rejected by the parliament.

*Young farmers: Young farmers should get 25% top-up payments for up to 100 hectares, and member states could also use more money to support small farmers, according to the parliament.

This is in keeping with the commission’s proposals to attract young farmers to enter the sector, and is good news for rural youth groups such as Macra na Feirme, which yesterday condemned the EU agricultural ministers’ lack of real support for young farmers, when they supported optional instead of mandatory support for young farmers and reduced the national reserve fund priority for young farmers.

*Sugar: Although agreeing to scrap milk quotas, parliament vetoed commission plans to allow sugar quotas to expire in 2015. MEPs want to enable beet producers prepare for the liberalisation of the sector in 2020. This is another difficult negotiating area for Simon Coveney, presiding over the CAP reform, because agriculture ministers want sugar quotas gone by 2017.

*Payment cap: Parliament has backed Commission plans to cap direct payments to any one farm at €300,000, and substantially reduce payments to those receiving more than €150,000. But ministers want capping to be voluntary for member states.

*Coupling: MEPs want to allow 15% of direct payments as coupled support; ministers want up to 7% coupled.


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