MEPs draw up battle lines on CAP reform


By Ed Bray | Thursday 21 June 2012, www.europolitics.info
Fairer redistribution of farm subsidies between old and new member states, more proportionate checks on farmers and a later end date for vine planting rights and sugar quotas – these are some of the key changes MEPs will seek to make to the European Commission’s proposals for reforming the Common Agricultural Policy after 2014. In a preliminary exchange of views, on 18-19 June, members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) were largely favourable towards moves by Portuguese Socialist rapporteur Luis Capoulas Santos to introduce a faster convergence rate to make payments fairer across the EU. But some MEPs, such as Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR, Poland) and Sandra Kalniete (EPP, Latvia) pushed the rapporteur to go further, while others, such as Michel Dantin (EPP, France), warned that too fast a rate could put farms in older member states out of business.

However, MEPs were split on other key aspects of Capoulas Santos’ report, such as his support for the Commission’s ‘greening’ approach of three EU-wide mandatory measures. UK Liberal George Lyon and Irish Conservative Mairead McGuinness called instead for a ‘menu’ of environmental options – echoing demands made by a majority of member states in Council – so that farmers can tailor the measures to the specificities of their local areas. Speaking to journalists, Capoulas Santos said his ‘greening’ approach was less bureaucratic than the Commission’s as it excluded the smallest farmers and made it more flexible for others. Farmers who carry out certified environmental schemes would also be able to qualify for the ‘greening’ support, he said. Some MEPs, such as Jim Nicholson (ECR, UK) and Iratxe Garcia Perez (S&D, Spain), rejected the rapporteur’s support for capping the highest direct payments, saying it discouraged competitiveness. A number of Green MEPs attacked the rapporteur’s plans for reintroducing retirement support – €35,000 for farmers over 65 transferring their farm to another farmer – saying the focus should be on encouraging people to stay in the sector.

Meanwhile, a number of MEPs spoke in favour of plans by French Conservative MEP Michel Dantin to maintain planting rights in the wine sector “until at least 2030” and sugar quotas until the 2019-2020 marketing year. Commission plans foresee phase-out dates of September 2015 and January 2016, respectively. However, Socialist MEPs Ulrike Rodust (Germany) and Wojciech Michal Olejniczak (Poland) said sugar quotas must be ended, as taxpayers no longer supported the system.

Moves by Italian Conservative rapporteur Giovanni La Via to simplify checks on farmers received support from a number of MEPs. La Via said farmers should not have to reproduce aid applications if their situation has not changed, while a warning system should be introduced so that they are not penalised for minor irregularities. MEPs have until 9 July (for direct aid, CAP controls) and 10 July (rural development, market tools) to table amendments. A vote is expected in the autumn but the timing will depend largely on the outcome of the talks on the long-term budget.

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