CAP reform: some improvements but EU agricultural policy will no longer be ‘Common’

The Common Agricultural Policy reform has been voted through by the European Parliament today.

The Common Agricultural Policy reform has been voted through by the European Parliament today. The new legislation adopted takes steps forward in rural development, but it will also make the existing ‘unlevel’ playing field in European agriculture even worse, James Nicholson MEP, European Conservatives and Reformists Group agriculture spokesman, has warned.

Mr Nicholson welcomed improvements that will be made in rural development payments and in the application of payment exchange rates – to give farmers greater certainty when rates change.

However, the CAP reform will not address the main challenge facing European agriculture: producing more food with less land, less water, fewer fertilisers and pesticides. Instead, the so-called ‘greening’ proposals contained in the legislation will require farmers to take the best land out of production, and will tie farmers up in bureaucratic ‘green tape’, rather than encouraging environmental stewardship through Rural Development schemes.

Mr Nicholson also warned that today’s vote means the CAP is ‘Common in name only’ as countries that already receive higher than average direct payments will be able to move 15 percent of their rural development funding to direct payments. However, Mr Nicholson did welcome moves to make payments for farmers in Central and Eastern Europe slightly less disparate from those of older EU Members.

The proposals related to the organisation of agricultural markets also risk being a regressive step away from the reforms of the past, which have decoupled payments from production. Under the new single ‘Common Market Organisation’ rulebook so-called ‘Producer Organisations’ will have an extended role in managing the market, and care needs to be taken to ensure that changes to intervention and private storage aid do not take the EU back to the days of food mountains.

Mr Nicholson, who represents Northern Ireland in the parliament, said:

“We set out to deliver a CAP that created a level playing field, with less bureaucracy, encouragement for environmental protection, and a more market-facing agricultural sector. European agriculture needs help to rise to the challenges of increasing food demand whilst using less land, water, fertiliser and pesticide.

“The vote in parliament is much less regressive than MEPs had initially proposed, but it is not the far-reaching reform that is needed to reward more efficient market-facing farmers. This outcome is a mixed bag. We have been able to support some of it but not all.

“Rather than supporting farmers’ roles as environmental stewards through rural development projects, this reform will tie them up in green tape. It will move back towards the days when farmers were rewarded for storing food, instead of placing it on the market for consumers.

“Today, the Common Agricultural Policy is common in name only. A farmer in France will received wildly differing payments to a farmer in the UK or Poland. When competing in the same marketplace, all farmers ask for is a level playing field. Instead, they are being forced to take their best land out of production, and to compete with less support than their counterparts from other countries.

“Farming should be freed to take advantage of the growing demand for food, by becoming more competitive. Whilst some of this reform will improve common sense and flexibility in the application of the CAP, much of it is backward looking, bureaucratic and not preparing farmers for the challenges they face.”

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