Next week will see the European Parliament Agriculture Committee vote on the proposed amendments to the draft CAP regulations. It is an important step in the CAP process because it will effectively define the position of the European Parliament going into negotiations with the European Council.
In August last year the Parliament published over 7000 amendments to the draft regulations and during the autumn the Agriculture Committee worked through them to produce a series of compromise amendments that could be voted on. Those compromise amendments were published before Christmas and include a series of changes to the original proposals including:
- Making greening more flexible, with different routes to qualifying for greening payments
- Widening the definition of permanent grassland in a way that will allow heather to qualify
- Providing a wider range of years and ways by which farmers can qualify for first allocation of entitlements under the new regime
- Changing the initial step to area payments from 40% to 10% i.e. much smoother transition
- Allowing member states to define an active farmer
- Widening eligibility for the national reserve and allowing Member States the ability to top it up
No compromise amendment was agreed on capping, but if these amendments are passed they will address many of the concerns that have been raised about the original draft regulations, although it must be remembered that even once this vote is out of the way there is still a long way to go. There will also be ongoing concern that although one of the stated aims of this reform was simplification, the added and welcome flexibility that these amendments bring will inevitably usher in greater complexity and bureaucracy.
Once the Parliament has reached its position, through this vote next week and then a plenary debate of the full Parliament, it then has to negotiate with the Council to come to an agreement. Overarching everything, though, is the ongoing uncertainty about the budget, with the next round of budgetary talks pencilled in for February.
In terms of timescales, the European Commission have already signalled that they expect that the new direct payments regime will be delayed until January 2015, although they publicly still hold out hope that rural development support will be able to start in 2014. The Irish hope to be able to secure a deal during their Presidency in the first half of this year, but everything will depend on the budget negotiations and the speed with which agreement can be reached.