Taking stock with civil society: a perspective from the CAP Stakeholder Conference

On the initiative of the Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, and at a mid point in the negotiations on the reform of the CAP, the European Commission hosted a stakeholder conference on 13 July in Brussels, entitled ‘The CAP towards 2020 – taking stock with civil society’. The conference was intended to bring together the expertise and views of civil society to feed into the ongoing CAP reform process as well as an opportunity for the Commission to re-state the rationale behind their reform proposals.

A range of plenary presentations and workshops centred on the three themes of food security, natural resources and territorial development, intended to be aligned to the three overarching objectives of the future CAP.

During the plenary session, the non-Commission speakers, Hervé Guyomard (INRA, France), David Baldock (IEEP) and Ken Ash (OECD), essentially agreed that amongst the proposals, the basic payment under Pillar 1 remained the one part of the reform that did not have a clear justification and stressed that far more could be done than is currently envisaged to move EU agriculture in a more sustainable direction. David Baldock made a plea that the EU made the most of the opportunity the reforms offered to demonstrate world leadership in meeting the challenge of sustainable production, and how to achieve a balance between economic, environmental and social objectives. Arguing that a new CAP architecture was needed over time, ‘more pyramid than Roman temple’, he urged the Commission to stand firm against any watering down of the proposals to make sure that ultimately the agreed ‘measures correspond to the messaging’.

Speakers highlighted the limited role that the CAP could play in delivering solutions to the world food challenge, with trade, increased market volatility, and climate change influencing production choices far more than the CAP ever could. Despite this, the workshop on food security did not follow this analysis through to its conclusions, although this may have been a result of the continued use of the term ‘food security’ to mean very different things. It was unclear whether this is a result of the term not being clearly understood, or whether it is deliberately misused, for example as a means of arguing for increased food production or maintaining the EU’s position as a major exporter. Indeed, the very fact that the workshop was entitled ‘CAP and food security’ when the actual CAP objective is ‘viable food production’ only served to add to the confusion. The debates within the ‘CAP and natural resources’ workshop inevitably focused on the proposals for greening direct payments. Many of the views raised were not new and simply provided another forum within which to highlight again the issues that the greening proposals raise, the divergence of views between different stakeholders and the range of solutions being proposed.

Rather disappointingly, the Commissioner and Commission officials who spoke simply reiterated the content of the October 2011 proposals, without reference to the issues being raised through the negotiations or their own updated thoughts on greening articulated in their official ‘concept paper’. However, they made it very clear that the intention was to move towards a ‘more efficient, fairer and simpler’ CAP and stressed the interlinkages between the different objectives, stating that ‘EU agriculture will never become economically sustainable unless is can also be environmentally and socially sustainable’. Indeed, despite facing pressure from all sides, the Commissioner was robust in his defence of his proposals, stating that he would fight for environmental added value and that outcomes that were simply ‘greenwash’ would be unacceptable.

In terms of where this leads, the formal negotiations will start anew in September. In the European Parliament, a discussion of the amendments now tabled (nearly 7,000) will take place in the Agriculture Committee in September. The Council will continue its discussions with a view to coming to some initial agreements on certain areas in November or December. In addition, trialogue discussions including the European Commission will begin in September and continue until the end of 2012.

All presentations from the workshop and videos of the sessions can be found on DG Agriculture’s website.

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03 Aug 2012