The Agriculture Council met this week and discussed proposed measures related to schemes for young farmers and small farmers, Less Favoured Areas, the definition of an ‘active farmer’, capping larger beneficiaries and the internal distribution of direct payments. This was another opportunity for Member States to state their positions and push for their priorities as the negotiations move forward. The debates highlighted some of the dividing lines and key issues of debate.
Active farmer definition – Dacian Ciolos suggested that EU Member States should be granted the flexibility to draw up ‘negative lists’ of holdings not eligible for support, such as golf courses and airports, in a bid to target direct payments at ‘active farmers’. He called on the Danish Farm Minister and current Council Chair Mette Gjerskov to draw up a revised definition. At the same time, however, a large number of delegations put their weight behind a draft ‘active farmer’ definition, tabled by the Danish Presidency, that seeks to exclude non-agricultural revenue and shift the focus to the agricultural land, allowing “Member States a greater margin of discretion”. The UK Junior Minister Jim Paice welcomed the “removal of the income test” and added that the “negative list is the best option”
Capping - Two divergent camps emerged on capping. Some Member States seemed happy to sign up to the idea (Sln, Bul, Gre, Ire and Cyp), while others (Pol, Cz, Rom, Dk, Svk, UK and Lux) spoke out against the “artificial” division of holdings and the “unequal” impact that this would have on Member States. In response, the Commissioner said that he was adamant that the Council cannot backtrack on this move - “we have to take on board the credibility of direct income support and I intend to remain firm on that point”.
Small farmer scheme and young farmer scheme – Both of these schemes in the draft regulations are compulsory and much debate centred on whether they should be compulsory or voluntary.
Coupled support – Several Member States suggested that the Commission had got its proposals on coupled support about right (although note that Scotland would like to see more coupled support than it would be currently allowed). Some MS called for tobacco, olives and pigmeat to be added to the list of eligible products, but Jim Paice staunchly argued against coupled payments for tobacco insisting that “any recoupling should be limited with small variations”.
Areas of natural constraint (ANC) in Pillar 1 – Many MS were in favour of ANC being voluntary and targeted through Pillar 2. The UK was keen to avoid complication and the potential for double funding i.e. ANC support delivered in both pillars.
In response, Dacian Ciolos reiterated that the proposed scheme for small farmers “will lead to a significant cut in administrative costs” and “better targeted payments”. Arguing against the suggestion that the young farmer scheme should be made voluntary, he said that a Community approach is needed, as measures in the 2nd Pillar have not been activated in all Member States. Referring to coupled support he said that the measures should avoid distortions while taking into account Member State realities.