Informal Agriculture Council on the CAP post-2013
Agriculture Ministers met for a two day informal Council meeting starting 30 May which took place in Spain’s Extremadura region, Merida. The informal talks afforded an opportunity for Ministers to discuss their respective positions ahead of the publication of the Commission’s Communication on a post-2013 Common Agricultural Policy. Key issues under discussion were the competitiveness and innovation of agriculture in relation to the goals of the EU 2020 Strategy, possible future criteria for direct support, and the size of the CAP budget. Overall, the Council was relatively mute with Member States agreeing on overarching principles, although divergences in opinion were still very much present with regards to the rationale for CAP expenditure and the reform of the policy.
EU 2020, agriculture and competitiveness
Broad consensus was reached between all Agriculture Ministers on the potential role of the CAP in meeting the objectives of the EU 2020 Strategy with Mr Ciolos summarising that ‘the EU 2020 strategy relates to sustainable growth, smart growth and inclusive growth – and I think we all agree that the CAP can play a central role in providing these elements in (the) future’. A sentiment echoing the principles of a Spanish Presidency paper on the 2020 Strategy, which highlights the need for the CAP to take on a new ‘multi-functional role’ leading to increased competitiveness. Ministers were somewhat more divided, however, when it came to the question of how best to achieve this.
Five Member States, including Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and the Czech Republic, led by newly appointed UK Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, represented the opposition with demands for the inclusion of a point on competitiveness as a long-term strategy to place EU agriculture at the helm of standard-setting. Ms Spelman was vocal in her calls for significant changes to the CAP to ensure that it is reoriented towards the objectives of EU 2020 in order to maintain a competitive, productive and sustainable agricultural sector, noting that she is ‘not at all convinced that direct payments and market measures are the right tools to deliver those objectives’.
As may be expected, however, the majority of Member States remain in favour of a strong CAP in order to maintain agricultural activity and the fabric of rural areas, with France, Portugal, Greece and Ireland calling for more simplified and efficient measures under the two Pillars. Whilst there is agreement over the role innovation, research and development can play in stimulating competitiveness, no overriding vision emerged at the meeting on how best to increase investment in these areas.
Maintaining an equivalent share of the EU Budget
Discussions at the meeting inevitably turned to the question of the size of the CAP budget, for the period 2014 – 2020, with the majority of Member States expressing their wish to maintain a strong CAP budget. France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Portugal remained particularly in favour of a future budget similar in size to current levels. The UK once again set itself apart with Ms Spelmen stressing that she could not support a conclusion calling for the protection of current levels of CAP support, insisting that ‘it is clear that the CAP cannot continue as it is, but needs significant change’. Mr Ciolos, however, refused to enter into a debate about the budget at the meeting, stating only that any reform would not weaken the CAP and that talks on the subject would begin under the Belgian Presidency (starting 1 July).
Division of direct aid debated
Turning from discussions of the budget, the future distribution and allocation of direct payments was raised. Again divisions between Member States were evident as ‘the EU-12 Member States remain adamant to see the end of the historic model and continue to call for a more equal distribution of aid. Mr Ciolos appears to be in agreement with the notion that the CAP needs to take account of the diversity between Member States, admitting that there is no longer a place for direct payments to be based on a historic reference period and they will have to be better targeted. He called for the need for objective criteria, understood by society more broadly, and highlighted the fact that the Commission has already made it clear that they are leaning towards a more equitable model.
Following the conclusion of the informal Agriculture Council there remain several milestones on the journey to CAP reform. There will be a meeting in Madrid entitled ‘Towards a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy: How to reform CAP to improve agriculture’s contribution to the Europe 2020 Strategy?’ hosted by Notre Europe and the Real Instituto Elcano on the 24 June, in the final days of the Spanish Presidency, involving leading commentators on the debate.
The first analysis of the issues raised in Mr Ciolos’s online public consultation will be presented and discussed in a conference for invited stakeholders to be held on 19-20 July in Brussels. Policy proposals are under discussion within DG Agriculture, with the distribution of Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) likely to be one of the allocation criteria for Pillar One support. The impact assessment of the provisional proposals is already under discussion and will be finalised in the autumn, and more formal proposals will go out for inter-service consultation over the summer. A Commission Communication on the future of the CAP is then expected towards the end of the year with legislative proposals to follow by mid 2011.
23 Jun 2010
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.