The European Commission has announced that the reforms on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be delayed, likely to 2014 but perhaps 2015, due to lack of agreement. The proposals, done by the Commission in 2011, were designed to make the CAP more effective in supporting competitive and sustainable agriculture and vibrant rural areas. A major part of this reform package consisted of changes in the direct payment system, in which the proposed ‘greening measures’ played an important role. These greening measures were a first step towards a more sustainable CAP. Now that the discussion has reached a stalemate and the reforms have been delayed it is feared that the greening measures, which many members see as to rigid, will be abandoned or significantly weakened in order to reach a decision. Also, the proposed budget cuts put the greening measures at danger.
With the proposed measures the Commission hopes to transform the CAP, following a major budget decline from 75% to 41% of the total EU budget, to help farmers adapt to the changing needs of the market and secure a sustainable food supply. Moreover, as agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos remarked, farmers are also providers of public goods and the CAP should recognize this interplay between food production and provision of public goods in the form of landscape preservation and resource management etc. A major part of the greening measures are the possibilities for farmers receive extra payment, on top of the basic payments, by following the three measures of maintaining permanent grassland, crop diversification, or keeping 7% of farmland as ‘ecological focus area’s’.
These measures, however, have been under pressure from the beginning. Several Member States deemed them to rigid and argued for the inclusion of already existing environmental schemes. This led to the Commission to propose to accept some already existing national schemes as equivalent; however, this plan was rejected under opposition of Romania. Moreover, there was confusion about the risk of farmers receiving double funding.
It was against this backdrop that the Agriculture committee (COMagri) of the Parliament set to work on trying to reach a decision that could be put up for voting in the Parliament. This decision was supposed to be due at the end of November, but has now been delayed to the beginning of 2013, shifting the vote in the entire Parliament to march of 2013 (find the exact timetable here). This was partly due to the uncertainty about the budget and the almost 7,500 amendments that the committee had to process.
This new development does not only put pressure on the CAP reform as a whole, but especially at the Greening measures. As Sofoclis Aletraris, the agriculture minister of Cyprus, which currently has presidency over the Council, remarked: “if the budget will be cut back as proposed, I think you can be quite sure that the greening of the CAP will be cast into doubt, (…) a lot of Member States, I don’t think, will be willing to accept greening if there is no budget for it”. Moreover, the report on the progress of the CAP reforms submitted by the Presidency last week indicates that the greening issue is still outstanding, however, discussions are again being held on how to increase its flexibility.
Thus, as so far the future of the greening measures is still undecided and hopefully more will become clear once the COMagri decision date comes closer.
*update*: EU parliament presents their compromise amendments : here