Committee to adopt position on CAP reform.
Members of the European Parliament's agriculture committee will next week (23-24 January) agree a position on reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) for 2014-20. They are likely to resist European Commission efforts to cap aid to farmers and to tie funding more closely to environmental requirements.
Most controversially, the committee is expected to urge that farmers receiving payments for agri-environmental schemes, under the CAP's second pillar on rural development, should automatically qualify for the 30% of funds tied to environmental action in the CAP's first pillar – the direct payments to farmers. An amendment allowing this is being supported by the centre-right European People's Party and European Conservatives and Reforminsts groups as well as the Liberal group. It is technically illegal for the same action to receive payments from two different EU funds, but an exemption is being written into the compromise. The Commission has indicated that it will not accept the approach. “The Commission is adamantly against any case of double financing,” Dacian Ciolos¸, the European commissioner for agriculture, told agriculture ministers in December.
Green groups are also opposed to the compromise. “Already the CAP is struggling to win public legitimacy,” said Tony Long, director of the Europe office of WWF. “Many citizens do not understand why many farmers are receiving blank cheques while destroying our environment. If double payments are being introduced, taxpayers will feel that they have been cheated by MEPs, and a backlash will rightly ensue.”
MEPs are also seeking to ease the environmental requirements for smaller farms, with amendments that would require farmers with between ten and 30 hectares of land to cultivate only two crops in order to receive funding, rather than the three crops required for larger farms.
The set-aside requirement for ‘ecological focus areas' would be cut to 3%, rather than the 7% required for larger farms. In addition, farming measures that are “equivalent” to the greening measures prescribed by the Commission should also make farmers eligible for funding, say MEPs, in the face of criticism from environmental campaigners who accuse the committee of watering-down the proposal.
The Commission's proposal to cap funding for any individual farm at €300,000 is likely to be opposed by MEPs, who prefer creating a list of certain types of landowners who would not be eligible for funding. Informal negotiations with member states will begin following the committee vote. The full Parliament will vote on CAP reform in March.
Talks on the CAP have been stalled as agriculture ministers wait for the outcome of contentious talks on the EU's long-term budget (2014-20). Concern is mounting that the delay may prevent implementing the new CAP at the start of 2014, which would make it necessary to put an interim policy in place.
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