Farmers will be one of the interest groups most closely watching tonight's budget negotiations. The journalists are now waiting for official talks to begin at 21:30, as the bilateral meetings between the European leaders wind down.
This afternoon, as EU leaders were meeting bilaterally, the interest groups fearful of losing funding were holding briefings. One of the most fearful groups was Copa-Cogeca, the association representing Europe's farmers. The group is very alarmed by the latest compromise draft put forward by Council president Herman van Rompuy, which would cut funding for the EU's Common Agricultural Policy by €14.5 billion. This cut would go 6% further than the cut to the CAP proposed by the Commission.
The Commission proposed a nominal freeze in the CAP budget, which would amount to a 10% cut in real terms assuming an average 2% annual rate of inflation between 2014 and 2020. Van Rompuy's cut would mean something more like 17%, the group says – an absolute cut.
Northern European countries like Germany, Sweden and the UK have the knives out for the CAP. Many in these countries see the policy as wasteful spending that only benefits agricultural countries like France. But the policy has just as many member state defenders. France will fight furiously over the coming days to avoid the cuts to CAP suggested by Van Rompuy. It is thought that the cut to CAP suggested by the Council president would be unacceptable to France in any instance.
It's not just farmers that are worried about the agricultural cuts. Environmentalists fear that a cut to the CAP budget will make member states reject outright the Commission's proposal to reform the CAP over the next period by making it more green – tying payments to farmers to satisfactory completion of environmental measures.
A combination of abandoning the green requirements for payments, and drastic cut in existing environmental payments under the policy's ‘rural development' pillar, could mean that the next period's CAP could end up being even less green and more wasteful than the existing policy. That is an outcome I suspect the citizens of the Northern European ‘hawk' countries wouldn't be so pleased to see.
Dave Keating reports on the interrelated issues of environment, energy, climate change, transport, health, agriculture, fisheries and research for European Voice. In this blog, Dave brings you insights into the sometimes byzantine world of European Union policymaking as well as the equally confusing nature of life in Brussels. Originally from outside New York City, Dave has lived in Europe for six years. He can be reached at email@example.com.