Plenary vote on CAP reform package: a bitter sweet victory for the environment

On 13 March, the European Parliament plenary agreed their negotiating mandate on the CAP reform proposals. Whilst largely in keeping with the amendments passed by COMAGRI earlier in the year, a few key decisions were overturned with positive implications for the environment.

Particularly welcome, the controversial proposal to permit double funding for similar actions under green direct payments and the agri-environment measure was overturned. More surprisingly, the amendments which had sought to extend the list of criteria under which farms automatically would be deemed to be ‘green by definition’ were also rejected, with the EP voting to revert to the Commission’s original text.

Despite this, the actual requirements under the individual green measures have been weakened significantly. Added to this, the removal of the link between compliance with the greening measures and receipt of the basic payment means that the green measures have become essentially voluntary in nature. The question still remains, therefore, whether the measures will offer any real environmental added value in practice.

Draft mandates for all four areas of the CAP reform package approved with the following majorities:

  • Direct payments: 427 votes to 224, with 32 abstentions;
  • Rural development: 556 votes to 95, with 18 abstentions;
  • Single CMO: 375 votes to 277, with 24 abstentions; and
  • Horizontal regulations: 474 votes to 172, with 23 abstentions.

Double funding and greening

After significant lobbying activity and much press coverage, the EP plenary voted to overturn the amendment passed by COMAGRI in January to permit double funding. A specific amendment, under the rural development regulation, stating very clearly that payments for actions funded under the agri-environment-climate measure must go beyond those under both cross compliance and the green direct payment was approved as was a similar amendment under the horizontal regulation stating that ‘expenditure financed under the EAFRD shall not be subject of any other financing under the EU budget’. This was reinforced in the direct payments regulation by the rejection of COMAGRI’s proposal that all those in receipt of agri-environment-climate measures should be defined as ‘green by definition’.

The content of the greening measures themselves remain unchanged from the COMAGRI position, however, exempting high proportion of farmers compared with the Commission’s original proposals and reducing the EFA requirement to only 3% of the arable area, rising to 5% in 2016, compared to the 7% proposal from the Commission, which would also have covered permanent crops.

Disappointingly, MEPs also voted in favour of separating the penalty for non-compliance with the greening requirements from the basic payment, making it de facto voluntary, as agreed in January.

Interestingly, an amendment proposing that greening under Pillar 1 should be scrapped entirely and moved to Pillar 2 received considerable support from MEPs, with 99 votes in favour of the motion.

Rural development

The proposals on transfers between Pillar funds upheld that Member States should be able to transfer 15 per cent of Pillar 1 funds to Pillar 2, but only on the condition that it is co-financed by Member States. This is again disappointing as it is likely to dissuade Member States from making use of this facility.

On the positive side for the environment, the plenary supported the proposal from COMAGRI that 25 per cent of Pillar 2 funds should be earmarked for environment and climate commitments. However, MEPs rejected an amendment seeking to introduce a measure for High Nature Value Farming with 277 in favour and 383 against. Moreover, the inclusion of a risk management toolkit within Pillar 2 was favoured by MEPs, a move that has disappointed environment stakeholders who fear that an already tight budget is being squeezed further for measures of little environmental added value.

Also within the rural development reform package, MEPs have requested that the Commission delays the legislative proposal on Areas of Natural Constraint until December 2014. MEPs have asked that the Commission uses the time to develop mandatory bio-physical criteria based on appropriate data and mapping and that in the meantime the current criteria remains in place.

Cross compliance

Despite significant efforts having been made in recent weeks to get the EP to overturn COMAGRI’s vote to remove a number of cross compliance requirements from the proposals, the EP plenary overturned some but not all of the proposals. The Sustainable Use of Pesticides directive has been reinstated as a Statutory Management Requirement as have the GAEC standards for the protection of ground water against pollution, minimum soil-cover and minimum land management. However, the Commission proposals to introduce the Water Framework Directive as an SMR and a new GAEC standard to ban the ploughing up carbon rich soils and wetlands were both rejected.

Reactions

Reactions have been more positive from the agricultural industry than from environmental stakeholders. COPA-COGECA issued a press release showing their support for the plenary vote as a step in the right direction [http://www.copa-cogeca.be/Download.ashx?ID=1031586&fmt=pdf], whilst environment stakeholders view the plenary vote as a bitter sweet victory. A WWF representative remarked that although the plenary have ‘blocked the worst aspects of its Agriculture Committee proposal, the vote is still very disappointing’ as the actual content is so weak that it is unlikely to offer any real environmental added value. This line of argument was reinforced by other environmental stakeholders including EEB, BirdLife Europe and FoE Europe.

Reactions from the different political parties are equally divergent. The EPP welcome the outcome as ‘a success for farmers and consumers’, while the Greens claim that ‘MEPs have…voted for the CAP to plough ahead unsustainably’.

The Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Cioloș, has responded positively to the plenary vote, acknowledging several areas of agreement including capping, the 30 per cent allocation of direct payments to greening, issues of transparency and double funding.

Next steps

The outcome of the March Agriculture Council, taking place on 18 -19 March is now eagerly awaited at which their negotiating mandate should be set. Once this is agreed, trialogue discussions can commence. These are expected to start on 11 April and last until 30 June with 30 talks scheduled to take in this period.

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PUBLICATION DATE

19 Mar 2013