CAP reform long way off as MEPs reach 100 compromise amendments
The weird and wonderful convolutions of arriving at a new Common Agricultural Policy stagger on.
With so many vested interests, and so little chance of anything really being "common" in so diverse an organisation as the EU, it seems there's realistically little chance of a new CAP being introduced much before 2015.
Be that as it may, the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee's key decision makers on the CAP reform have now informally agreed the content of around 100 compromise amendments. MEPs tabled almost 7,500 individual amendments to the European Commission's original CAP reform proposals.
Since September, when the process of pulling compromises together began, NFU staff, office-holders and members have been in constant dialogue with the Parliament's decision makers in order to influence the shape of those compromises.
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As part of those efforts, NFU president Peter Kendall led a high-level delegation to Strasbourg in November to meet 21 of the key players and the NFU's office in Brussels has co-ordinated all of the European lobbying activities with colleagues across the organisation.
Mr Kendall told me: "The MEPs involved in the CAP talks have done a remarkable job making sense of the record-breaking number of amendments tabled earlier this year.
"MEPs set themselves an ambitious internal deadline of the end of the year and I am pleased that they have managed to knock the bulk of the amendments into a more meaningful, workable and acceptable shape.
"A huge part of our lobbying focus has been on addressing the unnecessary bureaucracy and costs associated with the commission's proposals.
"That effort is paying off. We are seeing significant progress in policy areas such as making the greening requirements more practical and workable, addressing concerns with the bureaucratic 'active farmer' test, ensuring greater flexibility around payment entitlements, securing a workable national reserve which is accessible to new entrants as well as young entrants, maintaining the vital elements of the sugar regime that give growers counter-weighting balances in the market, and the introduction of a much needed proportionate penalty system."
He said it was excellent that progress had been made with MEPs in so many areas, but some parts of the compromise package remained very concerning to us.
For example, giving member states greater scope to make coupled support payments, attempts to introduce market supply measures in the dairy sector and the efforts by some member states to hold on indefinitely to the higher payment levels associated with the historic payment model for SFPs.
He said: "History proves that the real impact of CAP reform comes from the decisions our own Government will take when it implements the policy.
"Defra has been lobbying hard for the power to reduce direct payment made to farmers by up to 20%.
"It's an incredibly hollow victory, but I am relieved that MEPs would limit the amount Defra could transfer in theory to a maximum of 15% and would require that money to be match-funded by the Treasury."
He said also concerned that Defra will attempt to opt out of the European system of greening and implement a more demanding and costly form of scheme for English farmers, increasing the regulatory burden imposed on farmers.
The amendments will be put to a vote of the full Agriculture Committee later this month.
Its draft report will then be sent to the plenary session of the European Parliament for yet more argy-bargy.