Full Parliament votes through the CAP reform amendments.

The parliament’s agriculture committee (Comagri) decided in a special meeting held the night before the vote that all MEPs should be allowed to vote on the amendments. It had been thought that they would whittle down the number of amendments submitted to full plenary. Over 330 amendments on direct payments, the single CMO regulation, rural development and CAP financing, management and monitoring has been agreed in January’s committee vote..

The 300-plus amendments included calls by some MEPs to reintroduce milk quotas, despite the EU having already taken the decision to end them from 1 April 2015.

They also called for the ending of export refunds which have been little used in the CAP in recent years, but whose continued existence offers a useful bargaining chip in World Trade Organisation negotiations.

Other amendments included calls by UK Conservative MEPs to delete entirely any form of coupled aid from the CAP.

Meanwhile, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness tabled an amendment to limit the maximum amount of coupled aid payments payable to no more than 10% of the available financial envelope, rather than the 15% limit supported by the majority of MEPs back in January.

The NFU would like to limit this to no more than 5% of payments being coupled to production.

On the direct payments regulation, the majority of amendments relating to “greening” of pillar 1 requirements remain unchanged from the earlier vote in January.

The most contentious element of the MEP vote remains whether they will allow farmers to be paid twice for doing the same thing for the environment, known as “double funding.” The European Commission is likely to resist this firmly.

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond travelled to Strasbourg ahead of the vote to lobby MEPs, saying that the NFU was having “one last push to make sure MEPs lay down the foundations for a CAP based on four overriding principles of simplicity, fairness, competitiveness and productivity,” he said.

The vote took place late morning on Wednesday 13th March.

Copa President Gerd Sonnleitner stressed “The decision today is a good basis to work on and marks a key step forward in the EU decision process. The EU agriculture sector employs nearly 40 million people mostly in the EU rural areas, and this decision should help to maintain this:

He urged EU Farm Ministers next week (18th March) to agree their position on the CAP reforms so that negotiations can commence between MEPs, the Farm Council and the EU Commission to reach a final agreement by June.

Copa-Cogeca also welcomed MEPs adoption of the resolution on the future EU budget for 2014-20, saying it paves the way for the final phase of the negotiations.

Debating the CAP on 12th March 2013 (prior to the votes on 13th) MPs expressed particular concern over two aspects of the reform package – direct payments and market support.

A move by the Agriculture Committee to waive rules banning “double payments” to farmers was widely opposed.

The parliament’s negotiator on the direct payments, Portuguese socialist MEP Luis Capoulas Santos, said a return to double payments was “legally unacceptable”. It would mean that farmers who are already gaining extra payments for environmentally friendly activities should be entitled to keep them – on top of the money they will get from the direct payment – but without doing any more to earn the cash.

There was also concern about the market support proposals. Jim Nicholson MEP warned that such intervention, if continued, would lead to over-supply and a return to so-called “milk lakes and butter mountains”.

Ukip MEP Stuart Agnew criticised the focus on environmental measures, arguing that “farmers are expected to solve non-existent problems of man-made global warming”. He added that “greening” the CAP would reduce food supply.

Commissioner Ciolos said “today’s European Parliament vote constitutes an important step forward in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) reform process. This is the first time that we have had full co-decision on reforms to the CAP, and the Parliament has backed a negotiating position, respecting the tight timetable.

Once the Council has also defined its negotiating position, we will be in a position to start the last phase of the reform negotiations. These aim in particular at making the CAP fairer, more sustainable, and more reactive in market management terms…

The European Parliament has supported the main principles of the Commission proposals, notably on the capping of payments, the Greening of 30% of Direct Payments and a Rural Development policy more adapted to the diversity of local (situations).

I welcome the fact that on certain subjects, such as transparency and double funding, the Plenary vote has defined a Parliament position closer to the Commission’s proposals.

Once the Council has also defined its negotiating position, we can start the trilogue meetings with the Commission, Parliament & Council, with a view to reach(ing) a political agreement before the summer… This should be (ambitious and balanced) in particular (in relation to) equity in distribution of CAP support, for real convergence between Member States, regions and farmers.

The problem of attracting young farmers to enter the sector must be addressed … I welcome the fact that the Parliament has supported the Commission’s proposals in this direction.

We must also work on the definition of agricultural practices linked to greening, notably the concept of equivalence so that this tool can be not only consistent, but also simple, efficient and transparent. For this, we need to introduce a credible sanction mechanism.

Finally, we also need tools for efficient market management, adapted to the (variety of) different sectors and regions, with not only a greater contribution coming from producers and producer organisations, but also a greater responsibility. One of the main issues here is to strengthen the position of farmers in the food supply chain and their capacity to respond to market crises.

BBC (12th March): www.bbc.co.uk

MEPs gave a less than enthusiastic response to the Farm Council’s ‘general approach’ on CAP reform, which was finalised on 19th March, pointing to a number of areas where the EP and Council positions differ.

Luis Capoulas Santos MEP (Port, S&D Group), who is rapporteur on the direct payments regulation (Pillar 1) and also the rural development regulation (Pillar 2), accused the Farm Council of agreeing to allow ‘double funding’ – paying farmers twice for the same environmental activity under both pillars 1 and 2. “Double funding is completely unacceptable”, he said, “It destroys the legitimacy of greening”. This is something for which his committee is often blamed by commentators.

Mr Capoulas Santos also criticised Ministers for making aid to young farmers voluntary rather than mandatory; and for refusing to make capping of payments mandatory on member states.

Michel Dantin (Fr, EPP Group), rapporteur on market mechanisms, welcomed the extension of sugar quotas and vine planting rules, but criticised the Council for its failure to strengthen the position of producers in the food supply chain.

Giovanni La Via (It, EPP Group), rapporteur on CAP monitoring and financing, demanded that penalties for farmers who fail to comply fully with new ‘greening’ rules be reduced. “Those farmers will already lose the greening component of their direct payments (30%)”, he said, “and I believe this is a high enough penalty”.

Agriculture Committee chairman Paolo De Castro (It, S&D Group) concluded “there are some areas where Council followed Parliament’s lead and others where we will have to negotiate intensively”.