This week saw EU Agriculture Ministers agree the European Council’s position on the proposed CAP reforms. With the EU Parliament reaching its position last week, the stage is now set for a series of negotiation meetings between the Commission, Council and Parliament to agree the final text of the regulations. The Irish Presidency hope to be able to complete the process by the end of their Presidency in June.
On direct payments, farm Ministers agreed that capping, aid to young farmers and the rules surrounding targeting support at ‘active farmers’ should be voluntary for Member States. This puts them at odds with MEPs who agreed that they should be mandatory and so these issues will be among those being negotiated over the coming months.
Coupled support was a key issue for farm ministers with liberal-minded countries such as the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Sweden all arguing strongly against the extension of the measure. Ministers agreed to raise the threshold to a maximum of 12%, but stopped short of Parliament’s calls for 15%. This will have been particularly contentious issue with the UK delegation because the Scottish Government is looking for greater coupling, but being represented by the Defra Minister pushing the English anti-coupling policy goal.
Farm ministers largely agreed with MEPs on the shape of future ‘greening’ requirements, although they sought to widen the list of exemptions. They also echoed MEPs’ demands for an optional top-up aid on the first hectares of a farm.
On the flexibility of aid between Pillars, (direct payments (P1) and rural development (P2)), Council agreed that all countries could transfer up to 15% from P1 to P2 and that less-than-average recipient countries (such as the UK) could shift up to 25% of rural aid (P2) to direct payments (P1).
Reacting to the deal, Mr Lochhead said:
“Agriculture is part of Scotland’s backbone, supporting our rural communities, providing vital employment, safeguarding our magnificent landscape and – possibly, most importantly – providing the ingredients which are making our food and drink industry a world-beater. But without support provided through the Common Agricultural Policy many of our farm businesses simply would not be viable so it’s not hard to see how important CAP reform is for Scottish farmers and crofters.
“That’s why we have been working hard for many months to get the best possible deal for Scotland and undoubtedly this is a better package than originally tabled but dealing with a UK Government with different priorities has been challenging. However, there have been more steps forward than back and important flexibility has been secured. I also welcome the fact that the new CAP will be greener than the current one.
“The flexibility has come hand in hand with more complexity – and the simplification agenda quickly got lost in a sea of complexity. The devil will no doubt be in the detail.
“The failure to secure the level of coupled payments we wanted has however tainted the deal for me and I’m even more concerned at the two-tier system currently being proposed which will leave Scotland unable to spend more than seven per cent, compared to the 12 per cent being offered to other nations. I sincerely hope that this is one area which can be addressed in the negotiations between the European Parliament and the Presidency. The European Parliament has adopted a much fairer position on this and I hope this matter can be addressed..
“Overall, the new CAP is taking shape even if we still require further detail on both new entrants and measures to stop slipper farmers to ensure these will be fit for purpose.
“One aspect, however, which I found immensely frustrating was dealing with the UK Government who refused to give us access to vital meetings with other members states or the Presidency and Commissioner."