Blame game hots up as senior MEPs blame ministers for CAP reform delay

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With little more than a week to go before the Irish give up the presidency of the European Council, there is a real stand-off in the negotiations over the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP).

Speaking yesterday from Brussels, Paolo De Castro, the Italian MEP and chairman of the agricultural committee in the European Parliament, said: “There are many, many issues still to be sorted.

“There is no final agreement on anything and unless we get progress I do not think we will get an agreement [by the end of June].”

De Castro added that unless discussions moved forward on major issues – such as direct subsidy payments to farmers – he did not think it worthwhile taking the agricultural committee to Luxembourg next week where the plan was to endorse the decisions made by the Council of Ministers.

For the past three months, the details of the next CAP have been under intense scrutiny in tripartite meetings involving the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the European Commission.

With these meeting due to finish tomorrow, De Castro said that, while progress had been made on technical points within the proposals, none of major political issues – such as environmental measures – within the CAP had even approached a settlement.

His colleague Luis Manuel Santos pointed his finger at the Council of Ministers for the failure, saying their “lack of flexibility” meant there could not be a conclusion to the talks. “Being at the negotiating table means having to negotiate,” he said.

The problem would appear to have arisen with ministers putting some issues under the CAP “off-limits” to MEPs or by saying they had no mandate to discuss some others, he claimed.

But De Castro said that the ministers would have to abide by the Lisbon agreement which gave the parliament equal decision-making powers.

Santos confirmed that one major area of dispute was in the “greening measures” where there is still a dispute as to the percentage of land to go into environmental focus areas.

He indicated that the commission was still sticking to its original proposal of 7 per cent of all land taken out of production, while the parliament’s preference was a range between 3 and 7 per cent and the council wanted 5 per cent of all land devoted to environmental measures.

The parliament also wanted a midterm review of the policy, he said, but the commission wanted no more than a report at that stage.