Common Agricultural Policy
Member states draw battle lines on CAP budget
By Ed Bray | Wednesday 25 April 2012
Member states have begun to draw their red lines in talks on the budget of the Common Agricultural Policy from 2014 to 2020, as major areas of contention started to emerge at a discussion among ministers at the General Affairs Council, on 24 April. While France and Ireland said that the European Commission’s plans to freeze the amount of CAP spending over the next financial period at 2013 nominal levels represented an “absolute minimum,” the UK and Sweden demanded extensive cuts across the board, aiming to reduce the overall multiannual financial framework (MFF) by some €100 billion. Germany reiterated its call for linear cuts to all MFF headings, while rallying support from a number of countries for a non-paper urging the EU to focus on “better spending”. The document - backed by Austria, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden – stressed the need for better coherence between different funds, a stronger focus on growth and employment, as well as on ensuring value for money.
Another bone of contention among ministers is how quickly the EU should rebalance levels of direct aid across the member states to reduce the disparity between older and newer members. The Commission has said that recipients of the lowest CAP aid levels should see the gap between their direct aid and 90% of the EU average closed by one third over the 2014 to 2020 period. But countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – which submitted a paper slamming the Commission’s approach as unambitious and unfair – said the rate of convergence must be higher and faster. Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland echoed this view. But Germany, France, Italy and Belgium demanded a longer transition period to enable farmers to adapt to changes to their payment levels.
A group of member states also draw their red lines on the Commission’s plans to cap the highest levels of direct aid, with the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden strongly rejecting the idea. The proposal goes against plans to make the EU’s agricultural sector more competitive and contradicts the Union’s goal of producing more food, the group said. But France, Finland and Spain have in the past spoken out in favour of the idea.
On the Commission’s ‘greening’ proposals, a number of countries, including Bulgaria, Spain and Portugal, said the obligation to link 30% of direct aid to the completion of new environmental measures was set too high, while the UK and Sweden were quick to encourage a shift in the ‘greening’ approach to agri-environment schemes under the CAP’s second pillar.
The budget talks have taken on additional importance for the future of the CAP after the Commission decided to integrate a significant number of its CAP reform proposals - such as the 30% obligation for ‘greening’ aid and the intra-EU convergence rate – into the legislative plans for the next MFF (2014-2020). The Danish Presidency has said it seeks to secure a “solid basis” for key talks among EU leaders on the future MFF at the European Council, on 28-29 June, with a view to reaching final political agreement at a summit in December.