EU – Farm ministers and union representatives have welcomed the deal struck between member states this week on the cornerstones of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
After two days and nights of debate, ministers have said the compromise has finalised a more flexible and practical greening element than earlier proposals and while the entire agreement still has shortcomings for some, the talks have achieved a satisfactory outcome.
Speaking on key points of the agreement, Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said: “Under the agreement struck today, measures to further green the CAP are more practical and flexible than was originally proposed. This is a step in the right direction."
“With food demand on the rise, heads of state decision which ensures that land is not taken out of production must be included in the final package to be agreed by Ministers, the EU Commission and MEPs in June," Mr Pesonen added.
Mr Pesonen welcomed the scope for the creation of producer organisations in the reforms by extending product coverage. He added that this is a vital step in strengthening producer positions in the food chain.
However, Mr Pesonen voiced disappointment over sugar quotas not receiving a three year extension to 2020.
Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the Republic of Ireland described the agreement as a ‘watershed moment’ but hailed the sugar quota agreement as a success.
“I am especially pleased to note the progress made in relation to the internal convergence of direct payments, the greening of direct payments and the future of the sugar quota regime,” said Mr Coveney.
Originally expected to be abolished in 2020, the sugar quota will now end in 2017, which Mr Coveney added means ‘another difficult issue that has been successfully resolved’.
In bringing the preliminary CAP reform stages to a close, Mr Coveney has said the Council of Agricultural Ministers has reached a ‘vitally important milestone’.
“I am delighted to announce that the Council of Agriculture Ministers has taken an enormous step forward in the CAP reform negotiations by agreeing its position on the Commission’s reform proposals,” said Mr Coveney.
“It is difficult to overestimate the scale of today’s achievement, given the range and complexity of issues which have had to be addressed by Member States.”
In particular, Mr Coveney was pleased to note the pan-european agreements about payment modulation. This relates to modulation or internal convergence of direct payments from pillar one to pillar two.
"On internal convergence, we have secured the required flexibility from Member States that allows the Irish model of partial convergence to be included in the options available for the distribution of direct payments,” said Mr Coveney.
“On greening, we have ensured that the payment may be a percentage of each farmer’s individual payment rather than a flat rate, as well as negotiating a difficult and complex compromise on the implementation of the three greening criteria proposed by the Commission. And on sugar quotas, we have secured an earlier abolition of the regime than originally sought by most Member States.”
But for German Agricultural Minister, Isle Aigner, the matter of funding fairness was the focus of bargaining efforts, which Mrs Aigner said had been achieved.
“EU funds have been secured in Germany, particularly for family farms and our more important rural areas. Greening allows the preservation and improvement of public services with public money and this idea has been brought to the fore in the reforms,” she said.
“Through additional efforts from farmers, increasingly environmental and conservation minded agriculture will be made possible thanks to these reforms. We have always wanted a sustainable agricultural sector that addresses resource management and climate change.“
In addition, Minister Aigner stated her approval of greening implementation plans after discussions between the Federal Council and the Conference of State Agricultural Ministers.
Speaking on behalf of the German Farmers Association, Chairman Joachim Rukwied said that German producers did not entirely share Isle Aigner’s view.
Mr Rukweid acknowledged that while the CAP reform has many positive aspects there are unsatisfactory elements regarding the financial distribution of direct payments.
“Insufficient funds will formulate a Council position in which there is no equal subsidy reduction,” said Mr Rukwied. “Instead there will be an independent variable which will cause redistribution within the EU at the expense of Germany.”
Spanish Agriculture Minister, Arias Canete hailed the reforms as a ‘major breakthrough for Spain’ although echoed worries from German farmers about even fund distribution.
Mr Canete said that the direct payments should: "Avoid disproportionate distribution of aid, a problem arising from the initial commission proposals. The incorporation of an additional 17 million hectares of member states was resulting in a dramatic decline in the amounts of aid."
On the subject of Rural Development reforms, Mr Canete stressed the importance of regional development programmes.
He said that issues such as pest and disease control; conservation of rare plants; forest fire prevention and assisting innovation and training on farms will improve the sustainability of food production.
Mr Canete concluded that now discussions have reached their final stages, the CAP is in a good position to support both arable and livestock farming and support farm income.
Ministers across Europe now await the ‘trilogue’ stage of the negotiations which is expected to bring the reform process to a close in June.