Rural aid reform on agenda
By Ed Bray | Friday 15 June 2012
Spending targets on rural initiatives aimed at tackling climate change and the co-financing rates for such projects – these are the main topics the member states’ ministers for agriculture will discuss when they gather in Luxembourg, on 18 June. In another round of talks on reforming the second pillar (rural development) of the Common Agricultural Policy, ministers will assess the European Commission’s proposal for a 25% minimum spending target on land management projects related to climate change. While the UK and Sweden have been pushing for a higher rate, Spain, Slovakia and Ireland have said that the provision should be a “guideline” rather than mandatory. Others, such as France, Germany and Italy, claim the specific percentage is unnecessary, as member states should have the flexibility to tailor programmes to their own regional circumstances. EU members are also split on whether the provision should be included as an article in the rural development reform proposal – rather than a recital, where it has less legal weight – with the Czech Republic, Denmark and Estonia strongly supporting such a move.
Ministers will also haggle over rates for co-financing rural support, which the EU executive has set at 50% for most regions and 85% for less developed areas and islands. A number of delegations have called for a higher EU share, while others add that national co-financing obligations should be lifted for finances transferred from the CAP’s pillar 1 (direct subsidies) to pillar 2. For his part, the Portuguese Socialist rapporteur for Parliament’s position, Luis Capoulas Santos, has spoken in favour of lifting the rates to 60% and 90%, respectively. The ring-fenced spending limit on climate change should also be raised to 30%, he said in his draft report.
Meanwhile, during the final Council meeting under the Danish Presidency, ministers will be briefed on a progress report outlining the level of agreement reached in talks on CAP reform. In a snapshot of member state positions on the CAP, the Danish paper highlights ministers’ demands for more flexibility in the way the new ‘greening’ requirements are introduced, as well as more time to adjust the convergence of payments in each country to make them fairer. A number of delegations, including Ireland, Spain and Portugal, have rejected as too hasty the Commission’s proposal for member states to move away from the current historical aid system to a flat-rate payment at national or regional level by 2019.
The Danish Presidency’s hopes for Council conclusions on the welfare of animals look unlikely to be fulfilled, as the member states remain split on the priorities of the EU in this area. While a large number of countries, among them Spain and Cyprus – echoing the position of the Commission – say rules on animal transport must be properly applied before any further reform, others, such as Sweden, call for more ambitious legislation. Ministers will also be briefed on progress made towards meeting next year’s ban on sow stalls and draft conclusions on anti-microbial resistance.