Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Discussions around the future shape of Europe's agriculture get underway in the Parliament

I'm back in Brussels this week not least because we're really busy as the parliament tries to get legislation through the plenary and reports through the committees before the institutions shut down for summer recess. Landing on my desk yesterday came the 4 reports that have been drafted by the Portuguese Socialist MEP (and former Portuguese Agriculture Minister), Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos for the Agriculture Committee's opinion on the Commission's proposals on the CAP health check. The deadline for amending the draft reports is not until the end of August so there is time for us to feed in the views from back home and ensure Scotland's farming and rural interests are to the fore of the Parliament's discussions. Last month the Scottish Government launched its own consultation on the CAP health check as has Scotland's NFU and certainly look forward to seeing their views.

Capoulas Santos has also published a
working document to accompany his four draft report, which provides his explanatory statement to proposals. These include for example proposing much smaller rates of compulsory modulation and to compensate for the reduction in the transfer of financial resources to the second pillar of the CAP (measures for supporting rural development and agri environment schemes) Capoulas Santos foresees capping the allocation of direct CAP payments to farmers at 500 000 euro as well as using Article 68 under which Member States would have the option to transfer unused amounts relating to Article 68 measures to the second pillar. These could then be used to support rural development programmes without any national co-financing.

On compulsory modulation Capoulos Santos proposes not to change the modulation rate for payments between €5,000 and €10,000. For payments above €10,000-99,999 the proposed rate would be increased by 1%, payments between €100,000 and €200,000, the rate would be increased by 2%, payments from €200,000 - €300,000, an increase of 3% and above €300,000, the proposed rate would be 4%.

Other proposals include in the area of minimum payments where Capoulas Santos recommends rejecting the Commission's proposal for establishing a minimum limit of 250 euro per year of one hectare and replacing it with the setting up of a 'simplified voluntary support scheme for farmers' that would allow farmers receiving less than 500 euro to be paid in a single lump sum every two years. This alternative is seen as greatly reducing and simplifying administrative burdens.

Interestingly, though Capoulas Santos also took the opportunity in his working document to criticise the Commission's health check proposals with his comments that:

"the Health Check could (and, in the rapporteur's view should) have dwelt more on the debate concerning the drawing up of an agricultural-policy model for the post-2013 period. The waste of such an opportunity is to be regretted.

The boundary which the commission wished to place around the debate on the 'health check' (leaving out in particular topics such as the legitimacy of aid and the setting of parameters for as common a model as possible of decoupled payments, the degree of management flexibility which should be granted to the Member States, modulation vs co-financing, the possibility of a ‘single pillar’ and the role of market regulation within the new CAP) will complicate the debate and the decisions concerning the 2013 reform, discussions on which will have to begin in 2010/2011.”

I'm guessing this is aimed at the forthcoming discussions on reforming the EU's budget that will be gathering speed come 2009 and not to mention the latest WTO Doha development round of negotiations where crucial ministerial talks are scheduled to take place in Geneva on 21 July to discuss the latest negotiating documents on agricultural trade issues.

The Parliament's Agriculture Committee will have its first chance to not only discuss the draft report next Monday (14 July) when it meets in Brussels but it will also have the chance to hear from the French Farming Minister, Michel Barmier when he comes to present the agricultural priorities of the French EU Presidency.

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