THIS week the Agriculture Committee in the European Parliament voted on the future of the Common Agriculture Policy. This represents another milestone in the path to agreeing a policy that will shape agriculture, rural areas and the environment for the foreseeable future. The outcome of the vote will form the basis of the Parliament’s position on a reformed Common Agriculture Policy.
The votes taken by Parliament will be subject to further amendment when the full Parliament votes to give consent to the text in March. However a number of key changes have been made to the original Commission proposal.
• On the important issue of direct support for farmers through the Single Farm Payment MEPs altered the rate of transition away from historic entitlements to a per hectare system by voting for a 10% movement in the first year instead of the Commission’s demand for a much quicker 40% movement in year one. There was also an extension to the timescale for reform of the current system to 2020.
• An average exchange rate calculation has been suggested instead of the current on the day exchange rate.
• A slightly faster rate of convergence for Pillar 1 payments between Member States was agreed following pressure from the New Member States.
• On coupled payments the Committee agreed that Member States could allocate 15% of aid for coupled support and would have the flexibility to choose which products they would support.
• Member States have been given the option to shift up to 15% of direct support in Pillar 1 to Rural Development measures under Pillar or the option to move up to 10% from Pillar 2 to Pillar 1. The movement of funds between pillar 2 and pillar 1 is important to the UK since the average payment is below the EU average.
• Member states have been given the power to draw up their own definition of an “active farmers” eligible for payment including a negative list disqualifying some land uses.
• Young Farmers schemes were made compulsory with Member States allocating up to 2% of the national envelope to support the scheme.
• The original Commission proposal to put “greening” measures in Pillar 1 as part of the Direct Support Payment remains in place.
• The Committee voted to allow farmers in agri-environment schemes, which are at least equivalent to the Pillar 1 greening requirements, to be “green by definition”
• A greening menu option has also been included to allow membership of certain certified schemes to qualify for greening.
• Ecological Focus Areas have been adjusted to give farmers time to adjust; 3% for the 1st year with the potential to increase to 7% by 2017.
• Vote to limit sanctions for greening non-compliance to the 30% greening component only,
• Committee agreed to support a minimum spend of 25% on agri environment schemes and organic farming in Pillar 2.
Other headlines from the votes:
• More proportionate CAP fines in relation to cross compliance breaches for ear losses and electronic EID faults.
• The Committee also voted for the retention of export refunds, public intervention and private storage.
• Income Stabilisation Tool – may take the form of mutual funds which would provide compensation to farmers who experience a severe drop in their income.
• There has also been a call for a new supply management tool to be introduced in the event of a market imbalance.
• The Committee has also voted to withdraw the ban on first ploughing of carbon rich soils which would have been devastating for our farmers.
Recognising that time for agreement is very tight the committee has also voted to open negotiations with the Council of Ministers. It is here that important changes could also be made to the text as amended by Parliament.
It is also important to note that, as yet, the budget for the next financial period has not been agreed. Any further decrease in the amount of money allocated for the CAP would also impact on the scope of the policy. We are all looking eagerly to the Heads of State meeting on the 7-8 February to find out whether agreement can be made that allows the reform process to continue.