MEPs spark fury with call for fresh CAP discussions

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Threats made last week by the European Parliament’s agricultural committee that MEPs might want to reopen aspects of the recently agreed common agricultural policy (CAP) came under strong attack yesterday at a meeting of the European Union Agricultural Council.

Owen Paterson, the UK’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, did not mince his words on proposals by MEPs that they look again at the CAP after changes were made to the budget.

“If they [MEPs] think they can push for further changes, they are wrong. No single issue can be unpicked.” He added that the CAP deal contained “many unpalatable features” as far as he was concerned but a deal was a deal and if the parliamentarians wanted to delay decisions, then farmers across Europe would blame them for continuing delays and uncertainties.

Simon Coveney, the Irish agricultural minister and former council chairman who brokered the deal, said that, as far as he was concerned, a “full and final” political agreement had been reached.

Yesterday, sitting alongside fellow European agriculture ministers, Coveney said that, even in the final discussions between the parliament and the commission, MEPs had not raised any issues; countering claims by MEPs who want to look again at decisions on top-limiting farm payments and on the flexibility between direct subsidies and environmental support, once the “multi-annual financial framework” – or budget – was agreed.

While urging the matter be dealt with in a sensitive manner, Coveney was adamant that the council had “gone as far as possible” in setting the deal.

Paterson’s views were supported by other ministers meeting in Brussels, Denmark’s farm minister stating there was “no way” the CAP deal should be re-opened.

The Spanish minister was of like mind and said the priority now was to get down to the technical details so that a full legal text of the CAP could be achieved by November.

In this he echoed the concerns of agricultural commissioner Dacian Ciolos, who stressed the tight schedule still faced in getting the CAP to the start line by January 2015.

Ciolos expressed his fears that flexibility in the political deal might lead to more complicated policies and said that the commission would only sanction those that simplified procedures.

He also emphasised that definitions such as “active farmer” should be robust so that there would be what he called “no failings” in the next CAP.

The council meeting was the first of the Lithuanian presidency and also marked the first official appearance of the Croatian minister following that country’s recent accession to the EU.

In laying out his priorities for the coming six months, Lithuanian chairman Vigilijus Jukna said they had a lot to achieve in a tight schedule in sorting out the fine details within the CAP.

But he also laid out the next major work programme – animal and plant health legislation – and said they would also look at food safety.