THE future of food and farming, and the forthcoming EU protein plan to encourage the cultivation of protein crops (expected by the year’s end), were the key substantive items on the agenda of the second Farm Council under the Bulgarian Presidency on February 19th.
The Council kicked off just after 10am under the chairmanship of Bulgarian Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Rumen Porodzanov. In the morning, Ministers held a lively 3âhour discussion on the next EU farm policy unveiled on November 29th, 2017, with a particular focus on direct support, environmental aspects and rural development.
During the debate, Ministers broadly agreed to make the distribution of direct payments more targeted – at ‘genuine farmers,’ small and medium holdings and young people – for the provision of public goods, while the detail required under complex Rural Development programmes must be simplified. Delegations also agreed that the next farm policy should have a higher level of environmental ambition through common objectives set at EU level.
Following the discussion, Bulgarian Minister Porodzanov presented a 15-point summary to the Council chamber. Some key points include the ‘importance of direct payments,’ while there was ‘scope to improve their design by targeting them in a way that would allow … a fairer and more effective outcome for farmers.’ Delegations said it was ‘worth exploring mechanisms such as redistributive and degressive payments as well as capping of direct payments,’ stressing that these instruments should ‘remain voluntary with discretion left to Member States.’
Other elements include the ‘importance of voluntary coupled support (payments linked to production) as an efficient tool to support sensitive sectors,’ potential synergy and complementarity between the two CAP pillars and the need to avoid duplication and double-funding as well further simplification and reduction of the administrative burden. The lengthy discussion comes ahead of the March 19th gathering, where Ministers are expected to adopt Council Conclusions on the future CAP. Speaking with journalists after the meeting, Porodzanov said ‘we have the responsibility to lay the foundations of a modern policy that rightly rewards farmers for providing high-value public goods such as food security, the fight against climate change
Creed lobbies on CAP funding
IRISH Agriculture Minister Michael Creed told the Dáil last week that he was working hard with other Member States to protect the CAP, given the public support that exists for farm policy, ‘provided we embrace the bigger challenges now around sustainability.’
Ireland is working closely with ‘what might be described loosely as the older Member States of the EU,’ he told his parliamentary colleagues on February 13th. ‘France has always been an ally in CAP negotiations and recent soundings from President Emmanuel Macron are a bit more reassuring in respect of France’s commitment to an adequately-funded CAP,’ the Macroom man told TDs. Recent soundings coming from Berlin have also been positive.’
The Fine Gael politician noted that EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger had put forward the idea of budget requirements being financed by extra contributions and cuts in areas including the CAP. ‘I recognise there will be pressure on the farm budget post-2020, both as a result of the impact of Brexit and because of emerging funding priorities in areas such as security and migration,’ Creed said. ‘I will continue to argue that a strong CAP budget is more important than ever against the background of Brexit and having regard to increasing global population and demand for food.’
The Commission is expected to publish proposals on the EU’s long-term budget post-2020 on May 2nd. It is only then that we will have a better idea of how much money will be allocated to farm policy and farmers.
• Rose O’Donovan is editor-in-chief of the Brussels based publication AGRA FACTS and has been following the evolution of European farm policy for over 10 years.