French Presidency Ends on a Whimper, Rather than a Roar
The French took the helm of the EU at a critical point in the development of the CAP. Taking over the six-month EU Presidency in July, French officials held the dual ambitions of tying up one reform of the CAP and setting up the stall for the next. Whilst the French Presidency can take some satisfaction from concluding the Health Check, the parallel aim of reaching agreement on the longer term prospects for CAP reform - as set out in a report on ‘The Future of the CAP after 2013’ - has proved to be somewhat premature for a number of Member States.
The report is the product of the discussions which took place at the informal meeting of Agriculture ministers held in Annecy on 23 September 2008. A number of amendments were then introduced by the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) to the final draft prepared by the French Presidency. The report, for the most part, is innocuous. It outlines the challenges facing European agriculture (e.g. increasing global demand for food and the impact of climate change) and presents a further six broad objectives to tag onto those defined in the Treaty of Rome, although the final draft places greater emphasis on the more market orientated direction of the CAP established by the recent Health Check agreement.
The timing of the paper itself was somewhat bold, coming only a week after the Health Check had been agreed by farm ministers
Whilst the details of the text had already been thrashed out by senior Member State officials in the days leading up to the November 28 Council, the UK, Sweden and Latvia were unable to agree to the text. Given the failure to reach unanimous agreement, the paper was given the status of Presidency rather than Council conclusions. As such it carries no political weight and therefore cannot act as an official basis for future discussions. The timing of the paper itself was somewhat bold, coming only a week after the Health Check had been agreed by farm ministers (at the November 20 Council), and presented for discussion at a specially convened Council meeting. The French Presidency, and a number of Member States, may have felt under some pressure to defend the CAP and its budget, following the outcomes of the stakeholder consultation on the EU budget, that seem to place the current agricultural budget on rather shaky ground.
It appears that the UK and Sweden took issue with the statement that ‘it is necessary for the European Union to continue to have after 2013 a common and sufficiently ambitious agricultural policy’. Whilst these two countries, which occupy the more progressive end of the reform spectrum, are likely to have agreed to some of the additional objectives - namely to ‘ensure agricultural sustainability’ and to ‘reward public goods delivered by agriculture’ - this statement would seem to imply signing up to a business as usual approach to reform, and thus to limit the possibility for a reform that more fundamentally challenges the scope of agricultural policy.
Budgetary considerations and concerns about future spending commitments appear to have been a significant issue for those Member States which are net contributors to the CAP budget.
Even though the report includes a statement to the effect that future discussions on the budget review would take precedence over Council Conclusions, strategically the rejection of the report by the Council pushes back the point at which a decision needs to be taken in defining the broad contours of the debate. Budgetary considerations and concerns about future spending commitments appear to have been a significant issue for those Member States which are net contributors to the CAP budget. Such concerns were reportedly aired at the SCA meeting on 24 November by the UK and Sweden, as well as Germany and Denmark, although in the end the latter two Member States were able to agree the final draft of the text. Latvia is believed to have objected due to discontent about the inequality in the level of direct payments between the EU-15 and the new Member States, despite a statement in the report that the means to address such differences would be examined further.
The difficult issue of further CAP reform is not likely to feature at next week’s Council (December 18-19), which is set to be dominated by fisheries matters. However, it will be central to the agenda of the Czechs, who will take over the Presidency on 1 January. The next informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers, as with the last, will focus on the future of the CAP and will take place in Brno on 30 May to 2 June.
12 Dec 2008
The Institute for European Environmental Policy coordinates CAP2020. It is an independent not for profit institute which undertakes research in a number of policy areas including agriculture and rural development.
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