CAP reform deal ‘within sight’

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A MARATHON overnight negotiating session lasting more than 14 hours looks as if it has agreed large parts of the common agricultural policy (CAP) for the period 2014 to 2020.

Although there are still some major policies to be sorted out, one that is believed to have been settled will allow member states and regions such as Scotland, which are moving from a historic-based payment system to one based on area, to do so gradually provided they make at least a 60 per cent shift to the new system by 2019.

This move from the old historic system has been widely resisted by the Irish ,whose farmers wanted the transition period to last up to 50 years but it appears they have capitulated on that.

The euro-politicians originally planned that a 10 per cent move to the new system would be required in the first year (2015) but this requirement appears now to have been dropped.

Domestically, the rate of change, it is understood, will be decided by the Scottish Government ,who have also apparently been handed a number of tools to ease the changeover and avoid big winners and losers in the new system.

For example, they can nominate types of land use that can be excluded from area payments. This would solve a major issue as currently Scotland has 1.5 million hectares without any subsidy and spreading the support over that extra area would reduce support levels to farmers.

It is further believed that Scotland could create its own definition of active farming so that those who are currently getting support without producing any food would in future be excluded.

In contrast, new entrants will be eligible for aid from January 2015 – the official start date of the next CAP – provided they provide evidence of operating commercially in the current year and not as previously planned with 2011 as their qualifying year.

The level of financial support they get will again have to be decided by the Scottish Government but it will have to wait as the funding package for every member state has still to be decided and then it will have to fight for its share of the UK cake.

While it seems these issues have been agreed, others such as the environmental policies have still work to be done on them.

So after finishing their Monday session at 3:30 am yesterday, the Council of Ministers met again later in the day to sort out their final negotiating position prior to handing it over to the European Parliament for revision.

Speaking ahead of yesterday’s council meeting, Paulo De Castro, chairman of the European Parliament’s agricultural committee urged the ministers to provide flexibility in their final document as his committee, along with the commission and the council president, would hope to make the final decisions on it today.

Even then, it is expected that there will be a number of “open issues” such as the linkage between the new CAP and the water framework directive where decisions would be made after the main deal was agreed.

De Castro stressed that, during weeks of intensive and lengthy talks, parliament’s negotiators had shown a great degree of flexibility without accepting anything not in the best interest of “our farmers and citizens”.

“Now the ball is in council’s court,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the Irish presidency to get agriculture ministers on board to accept parliament’s priorities so that the negotiations could be, at least partially, concluded this week.”

His parting shot was a veiled warning that if the presidency failed to deliver, the negotiations would have to continue at a later stage with Lithuania at the helm of the council.