This week sees the final days of the Irish presidency of the council and there is a consensus among the three decision- making bodies – the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Commission – that the Irish must deliver before they demit office.
Simon Coveney, the Irish farm minister, admitted that, while there had been progress on many items, there were 25 issues still to be resolved and inevitably these were the most contentious.
The problem areas included final agreement on the environmental policies – although he stressed there was now an agreement that some existing agri-environment schemes in member states would be allowed. But within the EU “greening” proposals, there were still some where decisions had to be made, although there was agreement, or in euro-speak “a landing zone”, for those that missed out – the loss of 15 per cent of the farm support payment in the first year rising to 20 per cent next year and 25 per cent in the third.
He also indicated that, while there was consensus over the need for a specific policy for young farmers, there was still a wide divergence of opinion from the member states as to its scale and implementation. The coupling of support to production was also still on the negotiating table, according to Coveney.
Yesterday afternoon, talks between the three groups continued to try and knock out solutions, with the 80 strong EU agricultural committee – MEPs and support staff – bussed down to Luxembourg specifically for the discussions.
The council is expected to agree a final negotiating mandate today, with Coveney making it clear the final agreement will have to come from the parliament sitting tomorrow and Thursday.
In addition to pressure to close the deal, Coveney has had to deal with his own Irish farmers who face massive redistribution in support with the proposals. Speaking in Luxembourg, Irish Farmers Association president John Bryan said: “There can be no sell-out of Irish agriculture.”
And he warned that the livelihoods of thousands of farmers would be significantly disrupted if “flawed” Commission proposals were accepted.
NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller, also in Luxembourg, called for a “meaningful” package on voluntary coupling of support. “We need workable and pragmatic solutions on greening that recognise the unique farming systems across much of Scotland and we need a way of bringing new entrants to Scottish farming into the support arrangements from day one,” he said.
“We also want flexibility married to simplicity and that will be a difficult package to achieve.
“If that is achieved, the focus shifts to implementation and Scotland will then use the remainder of 2013 and the start of 2014 to decide on how we may best use any options available.”