CAP reform talks abandoned until June

European Parliament and agriculture ministers too far apart
CAP reform talks abandoned until June

Under pressure: Portugal's Agriculture Minister and President of the EU Council of agriculture ministers, Maria do Céu Antunes, and European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski, second from right, failed to move CAP reform talks towards agreement this week. Picture: European Union

Talks in Brussels on reforming the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) entered a fourth day today, but were called off early because the negotiating positions of co-legislators, the European Parliament and the Council of member states’ agriculture and fisheries ministers, were so far apart.

It was therefore decided to postpone talks until June.

The main point of disagreement between the sides is thought to be what proportion of the direct payments income supports for farmers would be ring-fenced for new eco-schemes. The eco-schemes are a new CAP instrument to reward farmers who go a step further in environmental care and climate action.

They are a big part of the European Commission and Parliament’s bids  to make the CAP reform “greener”.

And the Parliament also wants a fairer CAP in terms of funds distribution per hectare (through capping of the huge direct payments some big farms get, and redistribution of that money to smaller farmers).

On the other hand, most of the 27 member states, including Ireland, want to give themselves as much leeway as possible to spread EU funds as they see fit, and they have strongly rejected any attempt to force them to impose mandatory capping and redistribution of CAP funds.

There will be further attempts to reconcile these positions in June, again overseen by the European Commission, which will keep the pressure on to secure agreement.

The current Portuguese presidency of the EU is also under pressure to achieve a CAP deal during its term, which ends at the end of June, when Slovenia takes over.

Meanwhile, the entire EU agri-food industry must wait for agreement on the new €270 billion CAP which will shape how they go about their business up to 2028. Already, they are following the rules of a transitional CAP for 2021 and 2022, because the Covid-19 pandemic threw EU decision making into disarray and seven-year budgets and the CAP could not be agreed in time.

Unless there is an early agreement on the reformed CAP, member states will not have enough time to draft their national CAP strategic plans, which will outline the actions to be taken nationally, and must be submitted to the EU Commission by the end of the year. These plans are also a new CAP instrument, proposed by former Commissioner, Ireland’s Phil Hogan, when he launched proposals for the CAP reform in 2018.

Unless national CAP strategic plans are finalised this year, there may not be enough time to start the new CAP on January 1, 2023.

Nevertheless, the Parliament-Council-Commission talks on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the specially scheduled following Wednesday-Thursday meeting of EU agriculture ministers, have failed to make progress.

Greening of the CAP is at the heart of the impasse, with the Commission and Parliament wanting 36-38% green spending, but the Council of agri-ministers not going beyond 35%.

Built into the Parliament’s red line position is the Commission’s Green Deal plan to transform the EU into a low-carbon economy.

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans made a plea on Thursday to negotiators to uphold green ambitions for the CAP.

MEPs on Thursday rejected the Council of agriculture ministers’ position. They said if they had agreed to it, it would only be rejected by the full European Parliament in plenary voting.

Agriculture ministers worked late to draft another compromise package, believed to contain a proposal that 25% of CAP payments go into eco-schemes.

But this offer was also rejected by the European Parliament side.

Other than eco-schemes, there are a host of other items to be agreed, which are still far from reconciliation.

On Thursday, there was a warning from ICOS, representing Irish co-operatives, that the dairy industry could be hit the hardest by eco-schemes at 25%, along with a proposed 85% internal convergence of farmer payments, shifting money from the highest per hectare recipients to the lowest.

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